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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

When a group of powerful Irish Protestants and Catholics gather at a country house to discuss Irish home rule, contention is to be expected. But when the meeting's moderator, government bigwig Ainsley Greville, is found murdered in his bath, negotiations seem doomed. To make matters worse, it appears the late Greville may have led a less than savory personal life.

Unless Thomas Pitt and his wife, Charlotte, can root out the truth, simmering hatreds and passions may again explode in murder, the home rule movement may collapse, and civil war may destroy all of Ireland. . . .

Originally published: 1997.

7 11 89

Excerpt provided by Syndetics

Pitt stared down at the body of the man lying on the stones of the alley. It was a gray October dusk. A few yards away on Oxford Street the carriages and hansoms were whirling by, wheels hissing on the wet road, horses' hooves clattering. The lamps were already lit, pale moons in the gathering darkness. The constable shone his lantern on the dead face. "'E's one of ours, sir," he said with tight anger straining his voice. "Least 'e used ter be. I know'd 'im. That's why I sent for you personal, Mr. Pitt. 'E went orff ter summink special. Dunno wot. But 'e were a good man, Denbigh were. I'd swear ter that." Pitt bent down to look more closely. The dead man -- his name was Denbigh, according to the constable -- looked to be about thirty and was fair skinned, dark haired. Death had not marred his features. He looked only slightly surprised. Pitt took the lantern and shone it slowly over the rest of him. He was dressed in very ordinary cheap fabric trousers, plain cotton collarless shirt and poorly cut jacket. He could have been a laborer or factory worker, or even a young man come in from the country looking for employment. He was a little thin, but his hands were clean, his nails well cut. Pitt wondered if he had a wife and children, parents, someone who was going to grieve for him with the deep, hurting pain of love, more than the respect this constable beside him felt. "What station was he from?" he asked. "Battersea, sir. That's w'ere I knew 'im. 'E weren't never in Bow Street, which is w'y you don't know 'im, sir. But this isn't no ordinary murder. 'E's bin shot, an' street robbers don' carry guns. They uses knives or a garrote." "Yes, I know that." Pitt looked through the dead man's pockets gently, his fingers searching. He found only a handkerchief, clean and mended carefully on one corner, and two shillings and ninepence ha'penny in change. There were no letters or papers to identify the body. "You're sure this is Denbigh?" "Yes sir, I'm sure. I know 'im quite well. Only for a short time, but I remember that mark wot 'e got on one ear. Unusual, that is. I remember people's ears. Yer can make a lot of things look different, if yer wants ter pass unnoticed, but almost everone forgets their ears stays the same. Only thing yer can do is get 'air wot ides 'em. I wish as I could say as it wasn't, but that's Denbigh, poor soul." Pitt straightened up. "Then you were right to call me, Constable. The murder of a policeman, even on off duty, is a very serious thing. We'll start as soon as the surgeon comes and takes the body. I doubt you'll find any witnesses, but try everyone. Try again tomorrow at the same time. People may pass regularly on their way home. Try the street traders, cab drivers, try the nearest public houses, and of course all the buildoings around with a window into the alley, any part of it." "Yes sir!" "And you've no idea who Denbigh was working for now?" "No sir, but I reckon it were still some department o' the police, or the gov'ment." "Then I think I had better find out." Pitt rammed his hands into his pockets. He was cold standing still. The chill of the place, islanded in death as it was, only yards from the rattle and bustle of traffic, seeped into his bones. The mortuary wagon pulled up at the end of the alley and turned awkwardly to come down, the horses whinnying and swinging shy at the smell of blood and fear in the air. "And you'd better search the alley for anything that might be of meaning," Pitt added. "I don't suppose the gun is here, but it's possible. Did the bullet go right through him?" "Yes sir, looks like it." "Then look and see if you can find it. Then at least we'd know if he was shot here or brought here after he was dead." "Yes sir. Immediately, sir." The constable's voice was still harsh with anger and hurt. It was all too close, too very real. "Denbigh," Assistant Commissioner Cornwallis looked very unhappy. His strong features made him appear particularly bleak with his overlong nose and wide mouth. "Yes, he was still on the force. I can't tell you precisely what he was doing, because I don't know, but he was involved with the Irish Problem. As you know, there are a great many organizations fighting for Irish independence. The Fenians are only one of them, perhaps the most infamous. Many are violent. Denbigh was an Irishman. He'd worked his way into one of the most secret of these brotherhoods, but he was killed before he could tell us what he'd learned, at least more than the sort of thing we already know or take for granted." Pitt said nothing. Cornwallis's mouth tightened. "This is more than an ordinary murder, Pitt. Work on this one yourself, and use your best men. I would dearly like to find whoever did this. He was a good man, and a brave one." From the Hardcover edition. Excerpted from Ashworth Hall by Anne Perry All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Publishers Weekly Review

Having mastered all the elements of top-notch historical fiction and mystery plotting, Perry adds high political drama to her Victorian-era Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series. When prominent Irish Catholics and Protestants meet at Ashworth Hall to discuss legal reform, police superintendent Thomas Pitt (with his assistant, Tellman, reluctantly posing as valet) is charged with the task of discreetly guarding the meeting's chairman, Ainsley Greville of the Home Office. The assignment is natural, since Ashworth belongs to Emily Radley, Pitt's sister-in-law. Religious and national hatreds promptly crack any veneer of civility. But angry words over tea are merely prologue: Greville, considered indispensable to a peaceful resolution of Ireland's troubles, is murdered in his bath. While Pitt and Tellman ascertain that the murderer is neither an intruder nor a servant, Jack Radley, Emily's husband, assumes Greville's role and the meetings continue. Although Pitt learns that the philandering Greville was as likely to be murdered for personal reasons as political ones, Emily remains terrified for Jack's safety, and rightfully so: her guests' appetite for blood is far from satisfied. As absorbing and elegantly constructed as last year's Pentecost Alley, this mystery speaks directly to what is still a current political issueDand offers some very harsh words about the romanticization of historical grievances. By commenting on the seductive dangers of allowing anger to become habit, emotion to circumvent reason and legend to supplant history, Perry addresses much more than any one political problem, past or present. Author tour. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Perry, the reigning queen of historical mysteries, adds another jewel to her crown with this latest story, featuring Victorian policeman Thomas Pitt of Scotland Yard and his wife, Charlotte. It's 1890, and the recurring "Irish problem" has England and Ireland in turmoil. Leaders from the warring factions have been invited to a country-house party to try to establish a peaceful compromise, with Ainsley Greville, consummate politician, chosen to lead the meeting. Scotland Yard is fearful that violence will erupt, given the high emotions, long-standing hatreds, and volatile tempers of the participants. Who better to safeguard Greville and the other participants than Pitt? The meeting begins with high hopes--until Greville is found murdered. Pitt knows that the peace process, the future of the two countries, and certainly his own career hang on whether he can find Greville's killer. Perry's gift is her superb mastery of authentic period details and her ability to bring history alive with carefully crafted plots. Her latest story is especially fascinating, providing a glimpse of the history behind the current situation in Ireland. An intriguing read with well-drawn characters and some unexpected twists, this book is sure to be a hit with Perry fans. Expect high reader demand, and buy plenty. --Emily Melton

Kirkus Book Review

There's trouble afoot as negotiators open a crucial 1890 conference on the fate of Ireland. Magnetic Protestant Nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell is snarled in the divorce that will bring him down and leave the country leaderless. Closer to London, the conference chair, Ainsley Greville, has already survived one assassination attempt, but a Battersea constable who infiltrated the local Fenians has been less fortunate. Since his wife's sister will be hostess of the gathering at Ashworth Hall, Bow Street Supt. Thomas Pitt reluctantly agrees to attend, keenly aware of the parvenu status that makes even the subordinate masquerading as his valet look down on him. The stage is set for violence--but hardly for the romance Kezia Moynihan discovers when she surprises her brother, extremist Protestant negotiator Fergal Moynihan, in flagrante with nationalist poet Iona O'Leary, wife of equally rabid Catholic negotiator Lorcan McGinley. Murder follows apace, and although Perry (Weighed in the Balance, 1996, etc.) seems more assiduous in pursuing the finer points of backstairs blarney (the Pitts' maid Gracie is smitten by McGinley's valet) than in unraveling the mystery, the air of pumped-up intrigue is skillfully maintained till the abrupt final curtain. The Troubles perfectly suit Perry's gift for rooting large- scale social conflict in the minutiae of domestic intrigue. Fans of the series will be delighted. (Author tour)