Slaves of Obsession moves from Victorian England to the United States on the brink of the Civil War, evoking not only the nuances of the English class system but also the fierce passions and partisan loyalties that ignited the bloodiest conflagration in American history. When Daniel Alberton, a well-born arms merchant, asks private enquiry agent William Monk to investigate an extortion attempt, the former policeman is thrust into a conflict between competing Americans, Lyman Breeland and Philo Trace, who have come to London to purchase guns for the Union and Confederacy forces respectively. Bound by honor to complete the sale of a trove of weapons he has promised to Trace, Alberton refuses Breeland''s plea to change his mind. Breeland is championed by Merrit, Alberton''s 16-year-old daughter, who makes an impassioned argument for the anti-slavery position. Then Alberton is brutally murdered and the arms shipment stolen, and Merrit elopes with Breeland. Monk and his wife Hester are dispatched to America to retrieve the young woman and bring her seducer back to England to face a murder trial. Hester, who was a nurse in the Crimea, comports herself admirably on the battlefield at Manassas while Monk searches for Breeland and arrests him amidst the carnage. But once back in England, Monk''s investigative efforts cast doubt on Breeland''s guilt and point to a killer closer to home.
Hester Monk emerges as a fascinating character in her own right. Her relationship with the enigmatic William, whose fragmented recollections (of who and what he was before the accident that erased most of his memory) still haunt him, is thoughtfully evoked. As usual, Perry handles the secondary characters with brio. Breeland, in particular, becomes in the author''s capable hands a man whose obsessive devotion to the Union cause underscores his inability to return Merrit''s love. As Hester tells the infatuated young woman, "To see the mass and lose the individual is not nobility. You are confusing emotional cowardice with honour.... To follow your duty when the cost in friendship is high, or even the cost in love, is a greater vision, of course. But to retreat from personal involvement, from gentleness and the giving of yourself, and choose instead the heroics of a general cause, no matter how fine, is cowardice." This sixth entry in the Monk series evokes the era in which it is set with a fine eye for details of dress, manners, décor, and culture, while skillfully unfolding the emotional and intellectual depths of both William and Hester, whose well-honed intelligence makes it clear that she, too, deserves a series of her own. --Jane Adams
The year is 1861. The American Civil War has just begun, and London arms dealer Daniel Alberton is becoming a very wealthy man. His quiet dinner party seems remote indeed from the passions rending America. Yet investigator William Monk and his bride, Hester, sense growing tensions and barely concealed violence. For two of the guests are Americans, each vying to buy Alberton’s armaments. Soon Monk and Hester’s forebodings are fulfilled as one member of the party is brutally murdered and two others disappear— along with Alberton’s entire inventory of weapons. As Monk and Hester track the man they believe to be the murderer all the way to Washington, D.C., and the bloody battlefield at Manassas, Slaves of Obsession twists and turns like a powder-keg fuse and holds the reader breathless and spellbound.
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