Book review: Acceptable Loss by Anne Perry

Inspector William Monk thought he had become inured to the evils that lurk in and around the murky waters of the River Thames...

But nothing prepared him for the cruel and shameful vice ring that preyed on innocent young children and led to a grisly death at London’s notorious Execution Dock in the late summer of 1864.

Three weeks later, one of the young victims is still haunted by those terrible events and London’s most revered and feared detective knows he must uncover, once and for all, the ruthless men who are masterminding the operation.

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Anne Perry, mistress of the Victorian murder mystery, has taken over where Dickens left off with her atmospheric stories featuring dastardly deeds firmly grounded in a commendable social conscience.

Inspector Monk and his competent but caring wife Hester are the focal point for Perry’s exploration of the dark side of Victorian life which has clever and compelling parallels with contemporary society.

Acceptable Loss, the 17th outing for the intrepid inspector, takes up the gripping storyline of Perry’s last book, Execution Dock, which saw the demise of Jericho Phillips, the man who brutally killed a young ‘mudlark’ and ran an evil child prostitution gang.

Monk and Hester are doing their best to care for Scuff, a homeless boy slowly recovering from his terrifying kidnap ordeal at the hands of Phillips.

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Although Scuff’s evil abductor is dead, the child is still plagued by nightmares and is tortured by the knowledge that the ring has not been broken and many of his friends continue to suffer sexual abominations.

No-one in England has better skills of detection than Monk and dedicated to the point of ruthlessness, he determines to round up the ring’s influential paymasters.

When the body of unpleasant small-time crook Mickey Parfitt washes up on Mortlake’s shore, his loss is counted as acceptable but the death points Monk in the direction of Tosh Wilkin, a ‘nasty piece of work’ who fishes the sewers for valuables, and a motley bunch of pimps and tavern dwellers.

Parfitt’s Thames boat turns out to be a floating den of vice full of terrified and starving boys who are being abused by men with both money and power.

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As Monk’s investigation continues, the reputations of some of society’s most influential players, including Arthur Ballinger, father-in-law of Monk’s lawyer friend Oliver Rathbone, are called into question and his task becomes fraught with unforeseen dangers.

In an illicit world of blackmail, vice and corruption, Monk must follow the trail wherever it leads and no matter how disturbing the truth may be.

Perry brings a wealth of historical detail and accuracy to her best-selling novels which often take readers through uncomfortable moral mazes and age-old ethical dilemmas.

A murder mystery made to make you think...

(Headline, paperback, £7.99)