He's a bit of an odd duck, this foppish William Monk who has played center stage in Perry's five previous Inspector Monk novels. A former policeman in Queen Victoria's London, he is now an agent of inquiry, a tenacious seeker of the truth who is currently suffering from amnesia, the result of an unfortunate carriage accident.
In this tale, packed with obvious biblical allusions to the story of Cain and Abel, Monk is called upon to find the body of commodities trader Angus Stonefield. The Widow Stonefield is certain that Angus has been murdered by her husband's jealous twin brother, a much-feared denizen of London's violent East End. That the brother's name is Caleb pretty much defines the cleverly turned plot, since the Bible tells us that Cain (Caleb) did indeed slay Abel (Angus). While Perry's command of Victorian details lends authenticity to this psychological thriller, at a certain point her devotion to replicating Cockney speech grows tiresome.
A weak subplot involving Drusilla Wyndham, a woman of uncommon beauty, and her vengeful attempt to destroy Monk's reputation is a contrivance serving only to emphasize the inspector's sense of helplessness due to his memory loss.
Perhaps Monk is an acquired taste. Maybe if you have cozied up with him through his earlier cases, you have grown to love him and forgotten that although he's sharp, he's also vain, cantankerous and awfully full of himself. (Fawcett Columbine, $22.95)