Ashworth Hall : A Book Review
A guest review by Jane Davis, of the mystery by Anne Perry.
Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, together with their maid Gracie return in Anne Perry’s latest addition to her series set in Victorian England. This time the scene is Ashworth Hall, the great country house of Charlotte’s sister, Emily. The house is the site of delicate talks by representatives of both sides in the Irish question. There Ainsley Greville, one of her majesty’s official agents, tries to settle Catholic and Protestant disputes over land and national sovereignty. Greville’s life is threatened, so Pitt is sent to protect him. Charlotte and Gracie also attend in order to mingle with the women of the delegation and their servants. Together they hope to discover the culprit. Alas, they do not succeed for Greville is murdered and so is another guest. The death of such a prominent person cannot be withheld from the public for long so the Pitts must unravel the mystery.
Miss Perry has a profound knowledge of Victorian etiquette and social customs. She offers wonderful glimpses of the domestic life of the times with her hints on how to best clean various fabrics and the rigorous class distinctions among servants. She presents many characters from both the Irish factions, yet does little to develop their characters. This failing makes it difficult to become involved in the "whodunit" process so familiar to mystery readers.
All the elements of the traditional English country house murder are present: adultery, secrecy, class snobbery, and divided loyalties, but little of the human interest other writers have presented so well. Indeed the servants have more personality than their employers. The Irish delegation is comprised of one dimensional Celtic fanatics and mystics.
The conclusion is frustrating, especially after 373 pages. Motivation is unclear as well as exactly who did what to whom and why, as well as who alibied whom. A murder that occurred within the first two pages is only vaguely mentioned and many loose ends remain dangling. This Anne Perry novel is quite unsatisfactory.
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