Book Review: Three Debts Paid, a Daniel Pitt Mystery by Anne Perry

In New York Times bestselling author Anne Perry's Three Debts Paid, a killer is on the loose, targeting victims with a mysterious connection that young barrister Daniel Pitt must deduce before more bodies pile up.

London, 1912.

Three Debts Paid weaves together the lives of three young professionals: Daniel Pitt, a barrister at the firm of fford Croft and Gibson, Inspector Ian Frobisher, a member of the police, and Miriam fford Croft, one of the first female pathologists in England. Daniel and Ian “had been to the same prep school together and then both gone up to Cambridge, Daniel to study law and Ian to read modern history.” They had not seen much of each other since Cambridge so Daniel is surprised that their former university professor, Nicholas Wolford, asks for him to represent him in a legal matter, on Ian’s recommendation. Impney, the law firm’s chief clerk, says Professor Wolford is in their chambers. Daniel is flooded with memories: “the man was striking in appearance, moody in nature, a fine scholar, and beyond that, a brilliant teacher.” What does he want?

“He has a case that I believe he wishes you to take, sir. A matter arising from an instance of … plagiarism.” He said the word as if it were the name of some obscene minor disease.

 

“Someone has plagiarized his work?” Daniel was not surprised. Wolford’s style was unique and, in its own way, brilliant.

 

“No, sir, I believe the matter is somewhat more complicated than that,” Impney answered. “It concerns a new book he has written. Something to do with the French Revolution. He wishes you to represent him. But I believe there is more.”

 

“Really?” Daniel was startled. “What do you mean by more?”

 

Impney’s face was impassive.

“More” is the violent assault Wolford administered to the man who accused him of plagiarism. Wolford is a difficult client, arrogant, prone to quick anger, but he’s not, Daniel is certain, a plagiarist. The accuser, Linus Tolliver, was to first to raise his arms in anger, but he missed his target: “Wolford shrugged very slightly. “I hit him harder. I broke his nose.”” Daniel takes the case because of his admiration for a man that he found “more alive than any other teacher.” Wolford understands.

“I’ve sparked your interest, haven’t I?” he said quietly. You’re a good man, Pitt. Using your brain. Up to a challenge.”

Bad luck comes in threes.

While Daniel prepares for Wolford’s trial, London is rocked by first one, then another, and eventually, a third brutal murder. Daniel learns about the crimes when he visits his good friend Miriam fford Croft (the daughter of the head of his law firm) at the morgue where she works. Miriam is finally back from Amsterdam, where she credentialed as a pathologist. She now works at the side of her mentor, Dr. Evelyn “Eve” Hall. 

“Well? Evelyn interrupted the silence. “Are you here to see one of us?” Her face wrinkled with unhappiness as she looked down at the naked corpse on the table between them. “Poor little beggar,” she added, almost under her breath.

 

Daniel did not want to look, and yet he could not help it. Against every instinct, he stared at the white and bloodied body of the woman on the table.

The women send Daniel out to get some dinner. When he returns the body is covered with a white sheet. Eve tells Miriam and Daniel that a few days earlier another young woman’s body showed up at the morgue—also viciously stabbed to death—and mutilated in the same way as today’s victim.

When Daniel seemed confused, she crossed to the table and pulled back a bit of the sheet covering the victim. She pointed to the hand. Daniel leaned closer. Where there had once been an index finger, there was now only a bloody stump.

 

“Both women are missing part of the index finger,” Eve explained. “And no,” she added quickly, “it is not a coincidence. These fingers were severed at the time of death.”

It shows their trust in Daniel that the women know he won’t reveal this salient detail to the press. Eventually the news does leak out that a man the papers dub the Rainy-day Slasher is on a killing spree. Rainy-day for the women were murdered during miserable downpours. Perfect for a stealth murderer, “when the weather disguised him and everybody was hurrying, head down, collar turned up.” Ian Frobisher is assigned to lead the search for the killer. Ian consults with Miriam, who is working solo after Eve ends up in the hospital, a case of exhaustion. Miriam tells Joe, her essential helper at the morgue, that, “You can order your body to do things for just so long, then it will do what it needs to do.” Ian and Miriam are desperate to find some commonality between the two deaths. Then a banker, Mr. Haviland, is stabbed and mutilated in the same way. The public is frenzied with fear but Petheridge, Ian’s superior officer, warns him off investigating the banker. Ian pushes back: “I can’t solve this if you tie my hands, sir,” but Petheridge doesn’t mince words. The Home Office has told him “to leave Haviland’s reputation alone” and not question his widow.

His jaw tightened. “That was their polite way of saying to leave her out of it, or they’ll demand that I put somebody in your place who can understand orders and damn well obey them.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “And if it comes to it, they’ll put someone in my place as well. Go find your slasher, God help us, but do it some other way.”

The “chain of command” rears its ugly head but undeterred, Ian, Daniel, and Miriam collaborate as they sift through a paucity of clues, They keep coming back to what, if anything, the three murdered people have in common. A slight spoiler: the individual pursuits of Daniel, Ian, and Miriam begin to coalesce. Fortunately, the three of them can count on Daniel’s parents, particularly Sir Thomas Pitt, for sage counsel and under-the-radar advice. Three Debts Paid is a complicated mystery that will surprise and delight fans of Anne Perry’s Daniel Pitt Mystery series. 

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