My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Anne Perry’s books about William Monk always have a moral theme, and with A Sunless Sea, the Commander takes on the opium trade. Early one morning, when on routine business, Monk discovers the horribly mutilated body of a middle aged woman, lying in the open on Limehouse Pier. As his investigation commences, the victim appears to be a prostitute with a single client, who stopped visiting her about two months before her death. With considerable difficulty, Monk tracks him down, only to find that he too is dead, apparently from suicide. The authorities providing him with the details strike him as suspiciously evasive, persuading Monk that all is not what it seems. This man was a well regarded researcher who was trying to convince Parliament to regulate the labeling, dosages, and sale of heroin. A few days after his report was publicly debunked, he killed himself in humiliation, according to the inquest results. But the doctor’s widow, Dinah, immersed in grief, adamantly refuses to believe that he’d do such a thing. Soon she finds herself arrested for the prostitute’s murder. But Monk’s instincts tell him that something’s not right, and as he delves ever deeper, he finds himself embroiled in a governmental cover up of astounding proportions.
Although it drags in places, particularly at the start, once the pace picks up the plot becomes compelling. It seems certain that Dinah will be convicted and executed. As always, Monk’s success depends upon the help he is given by his wife and close associates, and as they team up to ferret out the facts, the reader is taken into dark scenes and settings that illustrate well Opium Wars and the development of the opium addiction that continues to plague society to this day. The courtroom scenes are equally effective, and culminate in the need of the defense counsel to make a gut wrenching moral choice of his own. No traditional happy endings, here, but this is a book that drives its point home.