You always know what you are going to get with one of Anne Perry's Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries: an exploration of the dark underbelly of Victorian society, the secrets that are hidden so well by the glitter and glamour and the stiff upper lips of that high society. The story will be told competently and with empathy for the helpless victims, and, somehow, in the end, justice will be served. All of that is true of Midnight at Marble Arch. While it is not her best work, it is a workmanlike effort that held my interest throughout.
In this 28th entry to the Pitt series, Perry takes on the subject of rape, something that she hasn't dealt with much before. She expresses outrage through the voices of her main characters that the women victims of rape are themselves blamed by society for the crime. They are seen as having invited it, of having brought it on themselves. Indeed, it often seems that little has changed in 150 years.
It won't be revealing too much to say that the perpetrator here turns out to be a particularly vicious serial rapist and that the police and Thomas Pitt as head of the Special Branch despair of ever catching him and bringing him to justice because of the shame and humiliation visited on the women victims and their families and of the secrecy which society imposes surrounding the subject of sex and sex crimes.
Nevertheless, Thomas doggedly pursues the rapist. He is haunted by the fact that some of the victims are teenage girls not much older than his beloved daughter Jemima, and one of the victims is a respectable married woman who reminds him of his own wife, Charlotte. If this despicable crime can touch such women, could it not also touch the women in his life? Although he knows pretty certainly early in the investigation who the perpetrator is, that man is protected by wealth and power. How can Thomas break through those protections and prove the man's guilt?
Pitt is usually aided in his cases by the intrepid Charlotte, but not so much in this instance. However, his former superior at Special Branch and now his friend, Victor Narraway, and Charlotte's Aunt Vespasia are on his team, so he is not without resources.
Vespasia has always been an intriguing character and she seems to be playing stronger roles in the latter books of this series, never more so than in this one. One feels that she is Anne Perry's alter ego. She is always described as beautiful and elegantly dressed. She is worldly and has had a fascinating life involved in the politics and history of England and Europe. Moreover, she knows everyone in society who is worth knowing and understands how to manipulate the levers of power. She is still very attractive to men in spite of having reached an advanced age. She is, in short, everything that an older woman would want to be!
Vespasia's relationship with Victor Narraway continues to deepen. He is completely entranced by her and they have a very companionable way of interacting with each other. They are both passionate about justice and willing to do whatever it takes to bring it about. They put their considerable talents into the battle against the serial rapist, and, from that point, one senses that the man is doomed.
I could easily see another series with Victor and Vespasia as the main characters - private detectives righting wrongs when the police are stymied. But Perry already has at least three separate series going. Maybe she doesn't have time to add another. Too bad really. These two deserve top billing in a series of their own.