A dark night, a murder, concealment of a body, a rape and a little twelve year old girl lie at the heart of "The Twisted Root".
The year is 1860. William Monk, agent of inquiry, married to nurse Hester Latterly, is faced with a complex case where the chief witness to a grave crime - Mrs. Miriam Gardiner - fiance to Lucius Stourbridge, who is the only son of a wealthy family, first disappears and - when found - refuses to reveal her part in the murder of coachman James Treadwell or to name the actual perpetrator of the crime. We already have the key ingredients of a mystery by the first few chapters of this thirteen-chaptered novel - an irritatingly stubborn witness, clues that lead nowhere, complications, agitation on the part of characters everywhere and a frustrated detective who has doubts about his powers of...well, detection.
It is left to Hester, a brisk efficient nurse at North London Hospital, Monk, police Seargent Michael Robb, a clever, dogged but inexperienced rookie, and lawyer Sir Oliver Rathborne to put together the missing pieces of the puzzle.
The arrangement of the climax that takes place in a hall of justice makes this novel resemble any contemporary courtroom drama. Unfortunately, the ending has more shock-value than anything else. It reveals the desperation of an author to wind up a plot that has evidently gone awry while he was cooking dinner or doing the dishes. The intelligent reader is left void of any satisfactory conclusion to what becomes in hindsight, a rather unnecessarily complex train of events. The motives behind the crime are the downfall of this book. They happen to be implausible and weak. Perry, though she generates enough interest among her readers to make them turn the pages, fails to convince them of her interpretations of human drives and impulses.
The setting of the novel in Victorian England with its carriages and horses, cottages, suits, servants, gentry and mansions is well portrayed. Perry succeeds in giving a faint whiff of the times. The description of nursing conditions in hospitals are the sociological high-point in the story. The attempts of Florence Nightingale to overhaul the poor pay and services and to improve the degree of professionalism among nurses, the depiction of institutional bureaucracy and inadequate administration and the insight into the prevalent ethos of working class Londoners in that era speaks of genuine research done in the subject.
All in all, the novel holds one's perfunctory interest and the determined reader will not be the poorer for having read it.This article was first published on 19 Jun 2000.