Weighed in the Balance, by Anne Perry

>> Wednesday, July 11, 2007

TITLE: Weighed in the Balance
AUTHOR: Anne Perry

PAGES: 373

SETTING: Late 1850s London, with short sections in Venice and one of the German states.
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: # 7 in William Monk series

REASON FOR READING: Still rereading the series. I'm quickly getting to the end of the books I have.

When Countess Zorah Rostova asks London barrister Sir Oliver Rathbone to defend her against a charge of slander, he is astonished to find himself accepting. For, without a shred of evidence, the countess insists that the prince of her small German principality was murdered by his wife, the woman who was responsible for his exile twenty years before. Though private investigator William Monk and his friend Hester Latterly, manage to establish that the prince was indeed murdered, as events unfold the likeliest suspect seems to be Countess Zorah herself...
THE PLOT: On being approached by Countess Zorah Rostova, who wants him to defend her in a trial she's facing for slander, Oliver Rathbone's first impression is that she's insane. The woman freely admits she's been saying to whoever would listen to her that Princess Gisela has murdered her husband, the former crown prince of one of the German states, when everyone knows theirs is the love story of the century. In fact, Prince Friederich even renounced to the crown of Felzburg because his family wouldn't accept Gisela, and they're known to be devoted to each other.

But Rathbone somehow finds himself accepting the case and in danger of losing his professional reputation for his defense of Zorah. Unless Monk manages to find proof of the murder, a murder even Rathbone isn't certain occurred...

MY THOUGHTS: At first sight, this didn't seem to be a case with much at stake (I mean, slander case?), so I settled in for a simple puzzle. Boy, was I wrong! The stakes end up being quite high, high enough to endanger Rathbone's entire future and Zorah's whole way of life.

This is still a murder case -our approach to it is through slander, rather than Monk simply being asked to investigate a mysterious death, but if he manages to prove it wasn't simply an accidental death, it's still murder. So there's the issue of not allowing a killer to go free.

Then there's the possible involvement of other members of the Felzburg royal family, through the confrontation between the parties wanting a Felzburg that's part of a larger, unified Germany, and those who would fight to the death to keep it independent and would like Prince Friederich to lead the fight. The process of German unification was one I was fascinated by in high school and I enjoyed reading about it here. Anyway, since foreign royalty is involved, the British establishment is not too happy to have Rathbone and his client make a scandal and forcefully make him aware of this.

And that's not all: through defending Zorah, Rathbone finds himself basically having to try to destroy people's illusions, the conviction they've had for years about Prince Friedrich and Princess Gisela being the embodiment of true love and that royals are perfect, exalted beings. This is a position sure to bring him much hate even if he succeeds in proving his case. Powerful stuff.

Monk's investigation was interesting and gave us some glimpses of Continental society, which was great. And the trial is excellent, as always. Perry's courtroom scenes are always gripping, even when what we're doing is mostly retreading some territory we've already covered. I always enjoy Rathbone's careful strategizing and his way of eliciting information from people without bullying them.

As for the resolution was the best kind: one that felt right. I didn't exactly guess it, but the whole proof did hinge on a certain point I'd been wondering about... Monk and Rathbone seemed to assume something without really delving into it and trying to find if it really was so, and I was practically screaming at them to look into this more. I didn't predict what came out when they did look into it (or rather, Hester did), but at least I was pointed in the right direction!

I did sympathize with the villain somewhat, even though I'm pretty sure Perry was angling for her readers to think this person was vile. Just to make it completely clear: I didn't sympathize with what this person actually did, but I did understood very well the feelings that brought it about. And there are certain revelations that I suppose I was supposed to be disgusted by, but which didn't really work that way, only made me more sympathetic.

In addition to this outstanding case, there's the personal stuff that has been becoming more and more important in the last few books. As in the last book, Monk is still in denial after what happened between him and Hester at the end of The Sins of the Wolf. And he's as bone-headed about it as ever. He just doesn't learn, does he? He's still so determined to convince himself that he couldn't possibly have feelings for a woman as "un-feminine" and "irritating" as Hester, that he busies himself trying to find the most obviously unsuitable and shallow women to become infatuated with. Not that he even realizes, the dolt. It says something about Perry's talent that I'm still extremely interested in all this. And fortunately, by the end of the book, I get the feeling he might see reason quite soon! I loved to see his instinctive jealousy at Hester's preoccupation with Rathbone's fate.

While Monk is behaving like a fool all over Europe, Hester is nursing a young man who has become paralized after a grave fever. He's from a Felzburg family, and this all ties in quite nicely with the rest of the case, not to mention that these sections were interesting in their own right. There's the tragedy of this young man (and his entire family) having to cope with the possibility that he might never be able to walk again, and there's also a sweet romance that develops between him and a secondary character from an earlier book in the series. Very nice.

MY GRADE: A B+ for this one.


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