Excellent addition to the series. [Spoiler alerts!] Rathbone takes the case of a gifted young architect being sued for breach of promise. Melville, friends with Zillah and her parents, including her mentor father, never proposed, then saw the announcements in the Times. Now he can't get out, but can't explain to Rathbone why he can't marry. Hester's hired to nurse Gabriel, one of 4 survivors of Cawnpore. Not only has he lost an arm, and his face badly disfigured, he suffers severe nightmares. He doesn't want to inflict this on his wife, a typical sheltered young bride when he went to India. With Hester's encouragement, she begins to learn not just to take physical care of him, but to read earlier history of India, so she'll understand why the Mutiny happened. Gabriel's brother Athol, a truly obnoxious character, believes she must be sheltered, and that “chin up, old boy” will heal anything. Perdita, backed by Hester, encourages Gabriel to stand up to Athol. Rathbone gets more and more discouraged about the case, as the opposition lawyer plays underhanded, also using “women should be sheltered." He calls a “friend” of Melville, tears apart their relationship as homosexual, illegal then; and a prostitute to testify she's seen them together, and that's what they do. In another subplot, Perdita's lady's maid, Martha, who's been with her since she was a child, has told Perdita about her family horror. Her brother, Sam, died suddenly of heavy bleeding. The couple had 2 deformed children, and his wife disappeared to make a better life for herself. Monk can find no sign of the wife. The children are sold from one bad situation to another, at least kept together. When Monk is on their trail, they're sold into white slavery across the channel. He barely makes the boat in time, and borrows money from Gabriel to pay for them. Bringing them to Gabriel's house, he finds Mary thrilled to see them, and the staff is kind in finding clothes, giving them baths, finding a room they can share. Perdita and Gabriel assure them they can stay there at least until they can be trained for better jobs. Monk, Hester, and Rathbone still suspect Melville was murdered, especially after the coroner discovers he is a she. Why would she hide her sex? Why would someone murder her? What does this murder have do to with the murder of Sam Jackson, the father of the deformed girls? Monk and Hester go after the exhumation of Sam. Hester finds glass where the stomach used to be; that explains his murder. They and Rathbone think back to how the belladonna could have been administered to Melville. The only time he was “available” was during a break, when Mrs. Lathrop brought him all the “treasures” he'd given Zillah. He took them, put them in his pocket, and chewed his nails. That's how he got the belladonna! They head back to town to try for another exhumation. Hester tells him that, deformities aside, the two girls look just like Mrs. Lathrop, proof to her that she's Martha's sister-in-law. Monk also proposes to Hester, who agrees. Along with the last book, this one makes a sharp turn in the series.
This is my favorite novel of the series (thus far)! It isn't nearly as dark and grim as some of the other Monk mysteries. I won't spoil anything, but Monk has a major personal epiphany--don't miss this one if you're following the series.
Involved in the STORY - Very DEFINITELY
Finish - with a DOUBLE punch !
This is an early attempt by the novelist and the plot lines are confusing. I don't have to be told more than once how difficult it was for the Victorian Woman to hold her ground in a misogynist society; author was often heavy handed in point this out to the reader. This is really 3 murder mysteries shuffled awkwardly together in one story, I expect her later novels showed improvement in her craft.
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