Review: Death with a Double Edge by Anne Perry

Review: Death with a Double Edge by Anne PerryDeath with a Double Edge (Daniel Pitt #4) by Anne Perry
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Daniel Pitt #4
Pages: 304
Published by Ballantine Books on April 13, 2021
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Daniel Pitt's investigation into his colleague's murder leads him through London's teeming underbelly to the suspicious dealings of one of England's most influential shipbuilding magnates in a thrilling novel from New York Times bestselling author Anne Perry.
When junior barrister Daniel Pitt is summoned to the scene of a murder in the London district known as Mile End, he knows only that the victim is a senior barrister from the same firm. To Daniel's relief, it is not his close friend Toby Kitteridge, but the question remains: What was this respected colleague doing in such a rough part of the city? The firm's head, Marcus fford Croft, may know more than he admits, but fford Croft's memory is not what it used to be, and his daughter, Miriam--Daniel's friend and sometime sidekick--isn't in the country to offer her usual help. And so Daniel and Kitteridge must investigate on their own, lest the police uncover something that may cast a suspicious light on the firm.
Their inquiries in Mile End lead them to a local brothel and to an opium den, but also--unexpectedly--to a wealthy shipbuilder crucial to Britain's effort to build up its fleet, which may soon face the fearsome naval might of Germany. Daniel finds his path blocked by officials at every turn, his investigation so unwelcome that even his father, Special Branch head Thomas Pitt, receives a chilling warning from a powerful source. Suddenly, not just Daniel but his whole family--including his beloved mother, Charlotte--is in danger. Will Daniel's devotion to justice be the undoing of his entire life, and endanger Britain's defense at sea? As ever, the fates of family and history are inextricably intertwined in this spellbinder from Anne Perry.

My Review:

For all of its early-20th century setting, Death with a Double Edge is a story about power and privilege that could take place here and now as easily and as effectively as there and then.

Not just because many of the trappings of that time could be easily extrapolated to the present. And certainly not just because human nature doesn’t seem to have changed much in millennia, let alone in a mere century.

But because all of the causes of the series of crimes that keep pushing this story and this case forward, and especially because all of the reasons for officialdom to turn a blind eye, happened then, happen now, and quite probably will go right on happening ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

A young woman is beaten to death. A young man is accused of killing her. A lawyer defends him and the system seems to be working as it should. But when the accused is exonerated and both he and his lawyer are also killed it shines a bright light onto a dark deed that no one seems to have wanted to investigate too closely.

The young woman was a nobody with a “bad” reputation who was killed at a “fast” party. The young man’s father was rich and influential, meaning that he had the money to pay for an excellent lawyer – which he did. Although this was a case where justice was actually not bought. The young man was innocent – merely convenient.

It’s only when the lawyer turns up dead of a slit throat that Daniel Pitt enters the case. Because the lawyer was a senior member of his own chambers (read that as law firm) and the man’s death opens up every case he ever worked so that the chambers can make sure that all of his unfinished cases are taken care of. And so that it can make sure that its own hands are clean.

And that’s where things get interesting – and very nearly go pear-shaped. Daniel Pitt, still rather young and idealistic in spite of his profession, is stuck investigating men he respects and even in some cases, reveres. He’s all too aware that murder investigations uncover dirt that may have nothing to do with the crime being investigated but are still dirty and have the potential to ruin reputations and lives – possibly even his own.

He doesn’t want to discover that those he respects have played fast and loose with the law they’ve all sworn to defend. So much of this case is about Daniel’s loss of innocence.

At the same time, this operates on a second level. Because Daniel, as he often does, bounces ideas off of his father, Sir Thomas Pitt, now the Head of Special Branch. These days, the elder Pitt investigates terrorism and treason, but once upon a time he was a beat cop. His experience makes him an excellent, if sometimes involved, sounding board for his son.

But Daniel’s investigation wanders too near that accused young man’s wealthy father, and the elder Pitt is officially warned off. Repeatedly. Even as the case draws tighter around this wealthy man who has money, power, and influence – and whose business is building ships that the British Navy is going to need for the war that is coming.

Officialdom wants this case to die quietly, because Britain needs those ships. But neither Pitt can stop asking questions, because the law they both serve says that one murder is too many to overlook.

No matter what the powers-that-be are willing to tolerate for “the greater good”.

Escape Rating A-: The story of Thomas Pitt and his wife Charlotte – who met over the body of her murdered sister – are the featured characters in the author’s long running series that begins with The Cater Street Hangman. During the course of that series this mismatched pair, gamekeeper’s son Thomas and aristocratic daughter Charlotte, met, married and solved cases together as Charlotte adjusted to living as a cop’s wife and Thomas rose in rank, got himself fired because he has always been incapable of looking the other way, and then rose in rank again to become the Head of Special Branch.

In the details of their life together we meet all of their children, so it was lovely when their son Daniel became the focus of this new series in Twenty-One Days.

While I think Daniel’s series stands separately from his parents’, just as Daniel has begun a new life on his own as a young lawyer, there are plenty of hints from his parents’ storied past threaded through Daniel’s own series, just as our lives are influenced by our own parents, whether for good or for ill. Meaning that if you haven’t read the earlier series (I haven’t read them all but I read many once upon a time), you won’t feel left behind because enough of the details are present in their son’s series. But I remember the whole series VERY fondly.

But this feels like the first time that Thomas has had an actual full-on case arise from Daniel’s legal and investigative practice, and this series and its characters feels like it is established enough that Thomas’ case complements his son’s without overshadowing it – although some of the events that occur nearly bring both of them to their knees.

Everything in the story turns on power and privilege. Daniel fears that his late colleague cut corners in the law, and that he’ll be the one to uncover it. He is also mortally afraid that a man he reveres has allowed those corners to be cut, whether out of greed or because he is no longer capable of managing the chambers that he founded.

Daniel knows that justice can be bought and paid for by the rich and powerful, but he fears that the firm he hoped to spend his career in has been complicit. Even worse, that the father of his dearest friend has aided and abetted the practice.

Thomas, on the other hand, fears that the government that he serves is willing to condone and cover up multiple murders – and he is unwilling – in fact constitutionally unable – to allow it. He knows that the time to stop evil is when it is smaller and weaker – not after it’s been allowed to commit larger and worser acts and has become too powerful to overcome.

What keeps this story going is the way that, as the investigation continues, and the noose seems to close around the one neck that the government wants to pretend is not a suspect, the danger to everyone around both Daniel and Thomas Pitt grows ever greater. As the story becomes a race against time, the reader can’t turn the pages fast enough.

Who done it is easy to guess. Whether they will pay the price for doing it is the question that drives the story – and drives it very hard indeed.

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