Clemency Shaw, the wife of a prominent doctor, has died in a tragic fire in the peaceful suburb of Highgate. But the blaze was set by an arsonist, and it is unclear whether she or Dr. Shaw was the intended victim—or did the doctor himself set the blaze in order to inherit his wife’s large fortune? Baffled by the scarcity of clues in this terrible crime, Inspector Thomas Pitt turns to the people who had been closest to the couple—Clemency’s stuffy but distinguished relatives. Meanwhile, Pitt’s wellborn wife, Charlotte, retraces the dangerous path that Clemency walked in the last months of her life, finding herself enmeshed in a sinister web that stretches from the lowest slums to the loftiest centers of power.
Having temporarily abandoned Victorian police inspector Thomas Pitt and his highborn wife, Charlotte, in her last, highly acclaimed novel, The Face of a Stranger , Perry features the duo once again. She exhibits her customary skill in recreating 19th-century London, but here her well-drawn contrasts of upstairs and downstairs Victorian society have added psychological acuity. And her focus on a social issue--the secret ownership by members of high society of appalling slum housing--lends depth to the mystery surrounding the death of Clemency Shaw, a courageous woman who devoted her life-- and may have lost it--to exposing those who built their fortunes on the misery of the poor. Highgate is a posh Victorian neighborhood that becomes the scene of some highly dramatic house fires that consume people dear to Dr. Shaw, Clemency's husband, a free-speaking liberal who is Perry's most dynamic character to date. Just who is the target of these infernos? Thomas and Charlotte seek answers, while Charlotte in particular finds that Clemency's legacy of compassion did not die with her. Rounded out by a host of lively characters, this is a memorable tale.