Sunday, 13 November 2011

Read in 2011 - 25: Der Verräter von Westminster

After "The Audacity of Hope" was such a remarkable, interesting and at the same time pleasant read, my next book was somehow doomed to be a bit disappointing - and sadly, "Der Verräter von Westminster" by Anne Perry was just that.

Having read several parts of Anne Perry's series starring Thomas Pitt and his clever, unconventional wife Charlotte before - and enjoyed them -, I now wonder whether I simply never noticed the shortcomings in the actual writing, or my personal standards of what makes a good book have risen lately, or this one is just not quite as good as the others.

The series featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, plus a cast of recurring characters such as the street-wise, clever and pragmatic house maid Gracie; Charlotte's majestic, beautiful and extremely well-connected octogenarian Great-Aunt Vespasia and Thomas' boss, the lonely Victor Narraway who is secretly in love with Charlotte, is mainly set in Victorian London, with the exception of trips abroad or to places outside London on their various quests. Thomas starts out as a policeman, and later on in the series he is asked to join Her Majesty's secret service. Charlotte married him out of love, below her rank, but because she still has all those contacts in London's High Society, she is often able to help her husband with his inquiries by informally getting information from people who would never speak to him confidentially and in places where he would never be allowed in as a guest, only as a policeman.
You can read more about the series and the author on her website.

Sounds quite good, doesn't it? Well, until recently, I thought it was; I liked the thorough but unpretentious way Victorian life in various households of different class was portrayed, against the backdrop of political, social and economical realities of the time, something that is only possible with a lot of research.
But in this book of the series, by the original title "Betrayal at Lisson Grove" (why on earth did the German publishers think it fit to change this into "Der Verräter von Westminster", which literally means "The Traitor from Westminster"?), for the first time I noticed something odd about Anne Perry's style, and I'm afraid it is not the translator's fault; I guess I would have felt the same had I read the book in English:

The characters seem to have a rather strange way of dealing with their feelings and emotions. No, I do not mean the restrictions Victorian society placed upon men and women alike, only allowing what was deemed "proper conduct" between people who met at parties, at the theatre, on the street or at work. That would have fitted the story well and would have been perfectly explainable.
But every five pages or so (I did not actually count), any one of the characters "shudders" or "shivers" or "quivers" or "twitches" - no matter whether what has been said or thought justifies such a shock. Thomas and Charlotte, Victor Narraway and many others shudder and shiver their way through the elaborate story of a plot directed against Her Majesty and, ultimately, the whole order of the Great British Empire.
At first, I merely felt mildly irritated by all the quivering and trembling, but after a while, I'm afraid I have to say it started to become a bit ridiculous. I even began to wait for the next shudder running down someone's spine, and I was never disappointed. Only towards the end, when the story picks up speed and the plot is uncovered and now must be stopped before anything too dramatic happens, the shivering stops - maybe there wasn't enough time, or maybe the author forgot about it.

I guess I'll read one more book from the series, in order to find out whether that is her "mark" and I just never noticed it or this book was an exception and she tried something new.

Anyway, if you like more or less cosy Victorian mysteries, you will like this book - hopefully, you are less picky than I am :-)


  1. Have been reading an article about Anne Perry this weekend... have never read her work, but interested to see this today. Christchurch tends to remember this particular incident - and Heavenly Creatures was filmed here - my sons wedding reception was held in the Hulme house at the University, now the Staff Club. My friends daughter was in the movie working with Peter jackson - she even sang one scene at Girls High School with a hymn book that belonged to one of the girls...

  2. Hello:
    We have never read Anne Perry and, after your review, we are not so sure that we are tempted to start. The period of this novel is not particularly appealing, we rather favour a few decades further on, and the prospect of the shivering shuddering characters we do find unattractive.

    With so many wonderful novels on our to read list, which, incidentally, seems to expand rather than diminish, we are not sure that Anne Perry will make it to the cut!!

    Thank you so much for your comment on our recent post to which we have made reply, and for signing up as a Follower. We are pleased to return the compliment.

  3. Fi, I had no idea of Anne Perry's past, and understandably, nothing of this is mentioned on her official home page. Through your comment I heard of the murder for the very first time.

    Jane and Lance, you are right - there is too much really good stuff out there to be read, and after what I learnt from Fi about the author's past, I don't think I want to give her work a try again.

  4. It's amazing the things one learns! I was just thinking about my 'to read' list when I read the article that Fi pointed us to. It's a funny old world!

  5. I've never been wild about her Thomas and Charlotte mysteries, though I've read a few. The first Monk book she wrote was very intriguing, but I didn't go on reading that either. There are so many excellent mysteries these days that I don't want to spend time with a bunch of quivering shaking trembling people! That sounds so odd. I did recently pick up The Salzburg Connection (You could have read it at the fair you just attended, though it's very Cold War) by Helen MacInnes. She's a writer from the past whom I enjoy. But then the new Deborah Crombie arrived, No Mark Upon Her, and I jumped into that.

  6. Hello Kristi, my personal Salzburg Connection was anything but Cold War - I am glad to have gained new customers and established more personal contact with some of my already existing customers there :-)
    I think I have read some Deborah Crombie, but I can't put any particular story to the name.