In Victorian London, Genius Architect Melville approaches Oliver Rathbone to defend him in the court for a breach of promise case. It looks like Melville has courted his mentor's daughter and when the date for the marriage is set, Melville feels that he is misunderstood. He never proposed marriage and he feels that his friendship was misunderstood for love. The girl's father brings on a case of breach of promise to vindicate the honour of his daughter. All this could be avoided. Everybody repeats this over and over. They could have reached some understanding without involving the court. The case drags on and on. In this scenario it is difficult to sympathise with the case. Why is Melville not ready for the marriage?
This book features Victorian private detective Monk. But he appears only after the first hundred pages. The first half is Rathbone's case but after half the book Rathbone more or less disappears. Everybody runs to Hester to find the female perspective. At one end they talk of weak women who need to be protected even from their wounded husband's past, the other end is Hester who had been to Crimean war-the all clever, independent, strong woman. There is also a side case. Hester requests Monk to find the deformed nieces of the housekeeper who were abandoned a long time back.
Perry places her story in the aftermath of 1857 Sepoy mutiny in India. Initially it's irritating as the Sepoy Mutiny is called a barbaric act and pioneers of the movement called cruel. Perry redeems herself by making a turnaround.
There are some surprises. I never figured out the real reason for Melville's refusal to marry. It is interesting how Monk finds out the missing girls. Perry probably is making a statement of the superficiality of Victorian England, where people are obsessed with beauty and success, where women go to any extent to catch a suitable match for their daughters. Where marriage is seen as most suitable objective for women. Perry explores the role of women in Victorian England. While this aspect is interesting, it is difficult to get involved in the mystery at the centre of the book as the writer repeatedly says this case could be avoided.