On a sunny afternoon in late June, Cambridge professor Joseph Reavley is summoned from a student cricket match to learn that his parents have died in an automobile crash. Joseph’s brother, Matthew, as officer in the Intelligence Service, reveals that their father had been en route to London to turn over to him a mysterious secret document—allegedly with the power to disgrace England forever and destroy the civilized world. A paper so damning that Joseph and Matthew dared mention it only to their restless younger sister. Now it has vanished.
What has happened to this explosive document, if indeed it ever existed? How had it fallen into the hands of their father, a quiet countryman? Not even Matthew, with his Intelligence connections, can answer these questions. And Joseph is soon burdened with a second tragedy: the shocking murder of his most gifted student, beautiful Sebastian Allard, loved and admired by everyone. Or so it appeared.
Meanwhile, England’s seamless peace is cracking—as the distance between the murder of an Austrian archduke by a Serbian anarchist and the death of a brilliant university student by a bullet to the head of grows shorter by the day.
I have been a big fan of Anne Perry's historical mysteries since I first discovered her books but so far my reads have been limited to her two 19th century London series and those titles Christmas spinoffs. She has however, written in different periods and settings and I am glad that this HT event has given me the opportunity to start her WWI series that starts with this title. The series is comprised of 5 books each of which set in one of the war years from 1914 to 1918.
As mentioned in the synopsis the story starts with Reverend Joseph Reavley, and his siblings Mathew, Judith and Hannah, dealing with the sudden death of his parents. That they have met with an accident right after his father has talked with Mathew about a mysterious document that may change England's role in an upcoming conflict seemms like a weird and unfortunate coincidence till the two brothers discover evidence of foul play in their parents death...
Unable to discover the document Joseph returns to Cambridge where he is a professor only to be met with the murder of one of his students. In such a closed environment everyone suspects everyone and it seems Sebastien Allard wasn't such an upstanding young man as Joseph thought which might have led to his murder. Shocked and feeling a bit betrayed by his inability to see the victim clearly Joseph investigates what really happened and why.
I did enjoy the idea behind this series very much. I think Perry does a good job of telling the events that precede the War. The Irish problems and the Boer war are mentioned several times and the events in continental Europe described as they were happening. I think, however, that how she chose to tell her story made for a very slow paced action that might not appeal to everyone and that made it easy for me to leave the book aside for periods of time and pick others in between.
I found that when Joseph focused in Sebastien's murder we almost lost sight of what had happened to his parents. However that should have been our primary concern as it seemed more relevant to the political situation. One could imagine that both cases were related but while I didn't find the conclusion as obvious as all that it also wasn't the big closure I was expecting. I did like that sense of security that is fast coming to an end that she manages to convey and the discussions on pacifism and idealism that the characters engage in. Perry leaves a big cliffhanger at the end but instead of annoying me it also made me want to pick up the next book and see how things develop. I hope it is as interesting, albeit more engaging, than this one...
You can find the other titles in the series here
This review was previously posted at Historical Tapestry as part of the WWI Week