His name, they tell him, is William Monk, and he is a London police detective. But the accident that felled him has left him with only half a life; his memory and his entire past have vanished. As he tries to hide the truth, Monk returns to work and is assigned to investigate the brutal murder of a Crimean War hero and man about town. Which makes Monk's efforts doubly difficult, since he's forgotten his professional skills along with everything else.
“Richly textured with the sights and sounds of London and its countryside . . . Solidly absorbing and Perry's best to date.”—Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Hometown:Portmahomack, Ross-shire, U.K
Date of Birth:October 28, 1938
Place of Birth:Blackheath, London England
Read an Excerpt
He opened his eyes and saw nothing but a pale grayness above him, uniform, like a winter sky, threatening and heavy. He blinked and looked again. He was lying flat on his back; the grayness was a ceiling, dirty with the grime and trapped fumes of years.
He moved slightly. The bed he was lying on was hard and short. He made an effort to sit up and found it acutely painful. Inside his chest a fierce pain stabbed him, and his left arm was heavily bandaged and aching. As soon as he was half up his head thumped as if his pulse were a hammer behind his eyes.
There was another wooden cot just like his own a few feet away, and a pasty-faced man lay on it, moving restlessly, gray blanket mangled and sweat staining his shirt. Beyond him was another, blood-soaked bandages swathing the legs; and beyond that another, and so on down the great room to the black-bellied stove at the far end and the smoke-scored ceiling above it.
Panic exploded inside him, hot prickling through his skin. He was in a workhouse! God in heaven, how had he come to this?
But it was broad daylight! Awkwardly, shifting his position, he stared around the room. There were people in all the cots; they lined the walls, and every last one was occupied. No workhouse in the country allowed that! They should be up and laboring, for the good of their souls, if not for the workhouse purse. Not even children were granted the sin of idleness.
Of course; it was a hospital. It must be! Very carefully he lay down again, relief overwhelming him as his head touched the bran pillow. He had no recollection of how he had come to be in such a place, no memory of having hurt himself—and yet he was undoubtedly injured, his arm was stiff and clumsy, he was aware now of a deep ache in the bone. And his chest hurt him sharply every time he breathed in. There was a thunderstorm raging inside his head. What had happened to him? It must have been a major accident: a collapsing wall, a violent throw from a horse, a fall from a height? But no impression came back, not even a memory of fear.
He was still struggling to recall something when a grinning face appeared above him and a voice spoke cheerfully.
“Now then, you awake again, are you?”
He stared upwards, focusing on the moon face. It was broad and blunt with a chapped skin and a smile that stretched wide over broken teeth.
He tried to clear his head.
“Again?” he said confusedly. The past lay behind him in dreamless sleep like a white corridor without a beginning.
“You’re a right one, you are.” The voice sighed good-humoredly. “You dunno nuffin’ from one day ter the next, do yer? It wouldn’t surprise me none if yer didn’t remember yer own name! ’Ow are yer then? ’Ow’s yer arm?”
“My name?” There was nothing there, nothing at all.
“Yeah.” The voice was cheerful and patient. “Wot’s yer name, then?”
He must know his name. Of course he must! It was … Blank seconds ticked by.
“Well then?” the voice pressed.
He struggled. Nothing came except a white panic, like a snowstorm in the brain, whirling and dangerous, and without focus.
“Yer’ve fergot!” The voice was stoic and resigned. “I thought so. Well the Peelers was ’ere, day afore yesterday; an’ they said as you was ‘Monk’—‘William Monk.’ Now wot ’a you gorn an’ done that the Peelers is after yer?” He pushed helpfully at the pillow with enormous hands and then straightened the blanket. “You like a nice ’ot drink then, or suffink? Proper parky it is, even in ’ere. July—an it feels like ruddy November! I’ll get yer a nice ’ot drink o’ gruel, ’ow’s that then? Raining a flood outside, it is. Ye’re best off in ’ere.”
“William Monk?” he repeated the name.
“That’s right, leastways that’s wot the Peelers says. Feller called Runcorn, ’e was; Mr. Runcorn, a hinspector, no less!” He raised scruffy eyebrows. “Wot yer done, then? You one o’ them Swell Mob wot goes around pinchin’ gennelmen’s wallets and gold watches?” There was no criticism in his round, benign eyes. “That’s wot yer looked like when they brought yer in ’ere, proper natty dressed yer was, hunderneath the mud and torn-up stuff, like, and all that blood.”
Monk said nothing. His head reeled, pounding in an effort to perceive anything in the mists, even one clear, tangible memory. But even the name had no real significance. “William” had a vague familiarity but it was a common enough name. Everyone must know dozens of Williams.
“So yer don’t remember,” the man went on, his face friendly and faintly amused. He had seen all manner of human frailty and there was nothing so fearful or so eccentric it disturbed his composure. He had seen men die of the pox and the plague, or climb the wall in terror of things that were not there. A grown man who could not remember yesterday was a curiosity, but nothing to marvel at. “Or else yer ain’t saying,” he went on. “Don’t blame yer.” He shrugged. “Don’t do ter give the Peelers nothin’ as yer don’t ’ave ter. Now d’yer feel like a spot of ’ot gruel? Nice and thick, it is, bin sitting on that there stove a fair while. Put a bit of ’eart inter yer.”
Monk was hungry, and even under the blanket he realized he was cold.
“Yes please,” he accepted.
“Right-oh then, gruel it is. I suppose I’ll be a’tellin’ yer yer name termorrer jus’ the same, an’ yer’ll look at me all gormless again.” He shook his head. “Either yer ’it yer ’ead summink ’orrible, or ye’re scared o’ yer wits o’ them Peelers. Wot yer done? You pinched the crown jools?” And he went off chuckling with laughter to himself, up to the black-bellied stove at the far end of the ward.
Police! Was he a thief? The thought was repellent, not only because of the fear attached to it but for itself, what it made of him. And yet he had no idea if it might be true.
Who was he? What manner of man? Had he been hurt doing something brave, rash? Or chased down like an animal for some crime? Or was he merely unfortunate, a victim, in the wrong place at the wrong time?
He racked his mind and found nothing, not a shred of thought or sensation. He must live somewhere, know people with faces, voices, emotions. And there was nothing! For all that his memory held, he could have sprung into existence here in the hard cot in this bleak hospital ward.
But he was known to someone! The police.
The man returned with the gruel and carefully fed it to Monk, a spoonful at a time. It was thin and tasteless, but he was grateful for it. Afterwards he lay back again, and struggle as he might, even fear could not keep him from deep, apparently dreamless sleep.