Fiance flees with the coachman

But case of cold feet turns sinister when he's found dead

The Twisted Root by Anne Perry Ballantine 320 pp., $25

The sinister plot played out in Anne Perry's "The Twisted Root" is a storm of murder and deception.

Perry chucks the mysteries off the press almost as fast as her investigators can solve them. Her latest, coming out this fall, is the 10th outing for her ace detective William Monk, a genteel ex-police detective in Victorian London.

Monk moved into the private sphere after a clobber on the head left him amnesic. But the knock didn't diminish his bloodhound sense - and the help of his fiery wife doesn't hurt, either.

This time around, the recently married Monk is offered a seemingly hopeless case: Lucius Stourbridge's fiance abruptly flees in the middle of

their engagement party. And neither she nor the coachman who drove her can be found.

What Monk initially concludes is a case of cold feet turns much knottier when the coachman is discovered dead. Monk races against the police to locate the escapee and prove she didn't kill her coachman before the law sends her to the gallows.

The story gets increasingly twisted by a secondary plot involving Monk's reformed-minded wife, who discovers medicine is being pilfered from the hospital where she volunteers.

Through Hester, Perry fulfills what might be her primary purpose - to comment on Victorian social conditions.

Her bugbear in this book is the lack of health care afforded the elderly and indigent in 19th-century England.

But political statements aside, the murders (we're up to two now) drive the action, sending the parallel-plot strands careening into each other and dumping the whole knotty problem into the hands of crack lawyer Oliver Rathbone and the London courts.

Perry carries the suspense right into the last few pages. A twisted root, indeed.

*Kristina Lanier is a freelance writer in Boston.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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