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Vict. reader

The Cater Street Hangman

Well now, The Cater Street Hangman is a book I've been meaning to read for years but, like a lot of books, I've put it off and put it off. Two things have prompted me to pick it up at last - my reading of a couple of Anne Perry's Christmas books, which I've enjoyed very much, and the fact that I'm in a Victorian mystery sort of mood at present. So, it was time.




The Ellison family live quietly in London. The father, Edward, a banker, considers himself very much the head of the household and his word is law. He and his wife, Caroline, have three daughters - Sarah, the eldest, married to Dominic and still living at home, Charlotte, a spirited girl who says exactly what she thinks without thinking beforehand, and Emily, the youngest, an ambitious girl who wants more than anything to marry well and to marry money.

When the murders begin in their street the family at first try to stay aloof. Edward tries to keep the news from his wife and daughters on the basis that he doesn't want them tainted by it. But events overtake them - the family know one of the murdered girls and the police, who won't take no for an answer, arrive to ask questions - some of them embarrassing. Heading the police investigation is Inspector Thomas Pitt, a quiet but determined young man, who, it appears, has taken rather a shine to Charlotte.

The family are still attempting to stay aloof, treating the police with distain, and continuing with their daily routine as though nothing had happened, when one of their maids is found dead and mutilated in the street. If they thought things were bad before they are now horrified as Inspector Pitt begins turning up at all hours to question them minutely about their activities - especially the men. It seems Edward and Dominic both have secrets... but could they commit murder? Charlotte, in love with her sister's husband for years, is horrified and the only person who can help clear up the mess is the detested Inspector Pitt.

I expected this to be quite a light-weight book and in a way it was; it's very easy to read and I zoomed through it rather quickly. But dismissing it that easily would be doing Anne Perry an injustice because this is not just a crime/mystery story. The various layers of Victorian society are all here in this book. The class-ridden snobbishness the well-off used when dealing with anyone of a lower class, the double-standards of men, requiring their wives and daughters to be complete innocents while actively taking part in some rather dubious, extra-marital, sexual activity, women, completely frustrated at not being allowed to be full members of society, the hypocrisy of the church, and so on; it's all here.

To tell the truth I was really quite taken aback by some of it, even though I've read Victorian history and sort of knew. The father's censoring of the newspapers so that the women only heard the news he read out to them and had no idea what was going on in the world, angered me no end. And the appalling attitude of the middle-classes to the police. They were happy for them to investigate crime it seems, as long as they didn't have to have them in their houses. And woe betide any policeman who was overly familiar or even treated the middle-classes as equals!

More than anything though, I was sorry for the women. Intellectually frustrated, often trapped in loveless or dictatorial marriages, it must have been appalling. And that's just the middle-classes. Compared to the appalling conditions the working classes were expected to endure they had it very easy indeed! Such an interesting subject and I plan to read a lot of more of these Thomas Pitt novels (there are over twenty) because I bet you any money Anne Perry doesn't let up on her dissection of the diseased innards of Victorian society and I *really* want to read more.

Comments

Ooh, this sounds fascinating - shall add to my mental list! I never really thought of the reading-aloud/censorship thing before, but yes, what a dreadful idea...
Isn't it? Newspapers went to the butler after the father and the butler used to leave them in the scullery for Charlotte to find and read. I wondered if such a thing (fathers censoring news)was realistic and decided that the author probably did her research and came across it somewhere. Fascinating.

Bear the book in mind (I know you have a long reading list this year) and if you decide you want to read it at some stage you can borrow it from me. I probably won't want to read it again but it's too good to send to the charity shop so lending it out would be a nice idea.

How's the Dragon Tattoo book going? I can't decide whether to read that or not.
Oh, I might take you up on that actually - thank you!

The Dragon Tattoo book didn't go at all, I'm afraid - or at least it stopped going and didn't get started again... It's just not the style for me, I like to be right there inside the characters, flying along with them... Hey, do you already have a copy, or would you like to do borrow-swaps for it? I could send it down, if you like - I can't imagine I'll want it again, to be honest...

I'm on a bookshelf read now, because I didn't get hold of any of my list books quickly enough - The Ice Trap, by Kitty Sewell, which I'm really enjoying. And I have three of my booklist books on the shelf now, smiling down at me... *g* This is much more like me - only February, and I've read eight books... well, finished seven and had a good bash at the eighth... *g*
It's a shame you didn't care for the Dragon Tattoo... these things can be doubly annoying when there's *so* much hype about a book. It was the same for me with The Time Traveller's Wife. Nearly everyone raved about it, including Peter and my eldest daughter. I just couldn't see what they were on about. I didn't connect with any of the characters whatsoever and didn't give a fig what happened to them.

Actually, a 'borrow-swap' is an excellent idea. Would you like to e.mail me your address? And you probably need mine... I know you've been here but I can't remember whether I sent you my postal address or not.

Eight books is pretty good for just a few weeks into 2010!

Off to look up The Ice Trap to see what that's all about. :-) And a rec from someone else - The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths which is apparently an archaeology crime yarn set on the coast of North Norfolk. Like I really need yet more book recs. LOL!