Anne Perry is my favorite historical mystery writer, because she writes with a lot of detail, creates interesting characters, and her books raise difficult social and legal issues of their time. On the flip side, she tends to be a bit repetitive and can be long-winded, but I’ll forgive that in a writer if the stories are interesting.
Perry has been writing the same two series for a very long time, so I was excited to receive an ARC of the first book in a new series. Twenty-One Days is about Daniel Pitt, the son of long-standing characters Charlotte and Thomas Pitt — so it’s a spinoff more than a new series. I’m actually more a fan of her William Monk series, just because the characters are a little darker and less conventional. But I really like the period Perry writes about, turn of the century England, and this series is interesting because it’s set around 1910, so it falls between Victorian England and World War I. Anne Perry is also the author of an excellent WWI historical series, which begins with No Graves as Yet, so I expect this series will lead up to the war.
I’m also fascinated by Anne Perry because of her past. At the age of fifteen, she helped to kill her friend’s mother in New Zealand, went to prison for five years, then changed her identity and moved to Scotland. She was the subject of Peter Jackson’s early film, Heavenly Creatures –a movie I found haunting before I ever knew it was about Anne Perry. Maybe I shouldn’t enjoy her work so much; or maybe there were extenuating circumstances. What I know is that Anne Perry knows first-hand about murder, hidden identities, human weakness, and redemption. All of these are common themes in her books, which makes them that much more fascinating to me.
But back to the book itself. Twenty-One Days is about young Daniel going to work as criminal defense attorney and assisting in two high-profile cases. As an assistant he’s working more on the investigative side than the legal side. Daniel’s a likable character; he’s enthusiastic, idealistic, and ready to learn, but he isn’t annoyingly brilliant.
The primary case is about a husband charged with murdering his wife, who’s found lying in their bedroom with most of her face burned off. The title refers to the 21 days attorneys have to file for an appeal after a defendant is convicted. Daniel and his colleagues have to work together to figure out what really happened in the case. And in the process, his own father is implicated.
This book has a lighter touch than many of Perry’s mysteries, but still raises some pretty serious issues, like domestic violence. I liked that Perry focused on scientific innovations of the time period, like the early use of fingerprints and autopsy analysis. The resolution of the larger mystery wasn’t obvious, and although there was an aspect of the resolution that didn’t make much sense to me (a spoiler so I won’t share) I enjoyed the book overall.
I might have preferred a mystery from a woman’s point of view, but Perry tends to be realistic about women’s options at the time. Her female characters are strong and intelligent but they tend to be wives and nurses, while their husbands are the detectives. Still, women’s issues tend to be front and center in her mysteries.
While I would have quite preferred a spinoff series based on Monk and Hester’s child rather than Thomas and Charlotte’s, I think fans of Anne Perry will enjoy this new mystery. If you’re new to Perry, I highly recommend Face of a Stranger.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Ballantine Books. This book published April 10, 2018.
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