When Anne Perry, the author of The Face of a Stranger—the first book in her Detective William Monk series—was fifteen years old, she and her friend murdered the friend’s mother by bludgeoning her to death. She spent five years in prison and was released. As an adult, under the pseudonym Anne Perry, she began writing historical murder mysteries set in the Victorian era. Her true identity was eventually discovered after a movie, Heavenly Creatures, came out about the murder. This did not affect her success, and she’s gone on to write many more books.
As a reader, it is a bit uncomfortable reading Anne Perry, given her background. It just seems so weird that she chose this route. Her novels are excellent, the mysteries are fascinating and the writing is top notch. But you can’t quite forget the person behind the book knows about perpetrating a murder first-hand.
The Face of a Stranger is the first book in the William Monk series. The story begins with Monk waking up in a hospital having no idea who he is. He had been in a hansom accident where he cracked his head, giving him amnesia. When he returns to his job as a police detective, he’s handed a murder case by his hostile commander. Monk tries to hide his memory loss, filling in the blanks as his memory slowly comes back. It’s a really interesting premise. He is not only chasing a murderer, he’s trying to reclaim his own life while he conducts the investigation. There are witnesses that he had some contact with before his accident, and he tries to figure out what was discussed without giving himself away. Eventually he confesses his amnesia to a fiercely independent nurse, Hester, who served during the Crimean War. While they initially clash due to their strong personalities, in the end they come together to help solve the crime.
Perry is a meticulous historian. Every detail from clothing to class brings the Victorian era to life. The characters are well drawn; she takes her time building her characters’ qualities. The end of the mystery was very satisfying, and definitely made me want to read more in the series. I have a read a lot of her other books, and they are just as well done. But I never quite forget her murderous past. It’s a strange experience.