While most of us don’t see beyond the headlines of today, New York Times bestselling author Anne Perry reads them not with an eye to the future but instead looks back into the past.
“I’ve always loved history,” says Perry who has just completed "Death on Blackheath" (Ballantine 2014; $27), the 29th in her Victorian mystery series starring the detective team of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. “Often what happened a thousand years ago is not that much different than what is going on today. Culturally it may be—what people believed, wore, society’s rules—but not what happened. You can take Julius Caesar’s assassination and update it and it would fit in to today’s headlines.”
Perry, who has written some 80 books or so in all, often time travels current events to write her intricate 19th century English mysteries. And so, even though Thomas Pitt is the commander of Britain’s Special Branch in the time of Queen Victoria, we know that in his dealings with espionage and spies, he has the headaches of his modern day counterpart—political intrigue, a country whose pre-eminence may be starting to fade and never knowing who he can trust.
It begins with the discovery of blood, shards of glass and long strands of auburn hair on the country estate of Dudley Kynaston, a high-ranking government official. Does it belong to the lovely housemaid who has gone missing? Next, a body, mutilated beyond recognition is found and Pitt, when questioning Kynaston, finds the minister’s story isn’t always consistent. Is he just forgetting details? Or is it something more sinister?
Perry, who speaks with a wonderful English accent (her current home is the Scottish highlands) writes because she’s always loved stories (“my mother was a wonderful story teller”) but also because she wants to connect to her readers.
“I want to share in my writing something of the human condition,” she says. “A wisdom and compassion, an understanding of life that enables feeling empathy for people whose paths may be very different from our own.”