Deceit, blackmail, and murder drive Perry’s mystery set in Victorian England just after the events of
Execution Dock have concluded. The good news is you don’t have to have read the previous outing to appreciate this bold historical thriller.
The author unfolds her traditional story that pretty much stands and falls on an overly long trial scene in the last third of the novel.
first few chapters offer a welcome preamble, shepherding us through the underbelly of London’s dockside where those who live on the edge scavenge off barges amid the thickest of Thames mud. William Monk of the River Police cannot help but smell fear when he is called upon to investigate the death of smuggler and petty criminal Mickey Parfitt. Mickey’s body has been found floating in the quiet reaches of the river where deserted marshy banks are shrouded in tree-lined stretches of silver water.
Monk, his wife, Hester, and their solicitor friend Oliver Rathbone are still reeling from the memories of that terrible night on the river when Jericho Phillips kidnapped the skinny mud-lark Scuff. Monk knows all too well that the discovery of Parfitt’s bruised, strangled body is going to mirror something a lot darker.
On Parfitt’s battered boat are four small boys as young as six or seven years.
Half-naked and cowering together in the corner, hungry and possibly ill, all have been hideously abused and abandoned by circumstance. These children of the streets and docksides are part of Parfitt’s operation. Frightened and black-eyed, they’re used to satisfy the unsavory appetites of privileged men who desire young male prostitutes and are prepared to pay in equal measure for their
illegal secret indulgences.
From Wapping to Chiswick, Perry’s story follows the twists and turns of the Thames river. Was Mickey’s murderer one of his clients, a victim of blackmail, or even one of his boys? Who was really behind the pornographic business on the boats? As Monk begins to look more deeply into Parfitt‘s life
- his friends and enemies, the men he used, cheated, and abused - he beings to see that the death of one more petty criminal fails to stir righteous outrage or even interest.
Although Acceptable Loss races along with all the energy of a high-speed bullet train, highlighting the more sinister aspects of Victorian London, the novel mostly kept me at arms-length. While water fascinates with vitality and danger - its sleeping surface so often smooth, “reflecting the light and hiding its own heart” - pages detailing the internal moral dilemmas of each character slow the action down.
From privileged Rupert Cardew to William’s wife, who works at her clinic for women of ill repute, to Margaret Ballinger, who feels revulsion at the torture and abuse of small boys, to Oliver, who battles his emotional loyalties to Margaret’s family, Monk is the moral conscience in this tale as he ponders the question: whose murder is acceptable, and whose deserves trial and possibly punishment?