Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Ballantine)
Why I decided to read: An interest in the period led me to pick this one up
How I acquired my copy: ARC through the Vine, January 2010
In The Sheen in the Silk, Anne Perry enters different territory than with her Victorian-era mysteries. Set in Constantinople in the 1270s and ‘80s, it features the adventures of Anna Zarides, a young woman who goes to the city to investigate a murder supposedly committed by her brother. Anna dresses as a eunuch and poses as a physician, so that she may better conduct her inquiries. All of this is set against a larger struggle between the Eastern Orthodox church and western Christianity.
Oh, dear. I really wanted to like this book. A beautiful setting, an intriguing plot—I thought, how could you go wrong with that? Well, a lot of things. It’s not that Anne Perry is a bad writer; it’s just that this particular novel wasn’t interesting or intriguing enough to make me want to read on. From the get-go, the premise of the book isn’t entirely clear; for the first two hundred pages or so, I had a hard time sorting out the characters and what had happened to whom. There also wasn’t enough back story to any of the characters from the start, so I was confused for a long time before things began to make some sense.
Another one of the book’s problem is that it’s a mix of genres, both mystery and epic historical fiction, if you want to call it that. This confused and confusing mix of genres ultimately works against the novel; because it frequently becomes a convoluted mess.
Another thing I didn’t like about this book were the characters, especially the main one; it seems as though the author pulled out all the clichés to describe here. How many times before have we seen the enlightened female physician in historical fiction? Also, I thought that Anna was extremely difficult to like as a character, simply because we never got to see her as anything other than cold and clinical. In fact, Anna spends so much time with her patients and not enough time investigating the murder that I began to get bored after a while. Her search is conducted over a number of years, too, which lessened the sense of urgency that make you as the reader want to read on. Anne Perry’s descriptions of 13th century Constantinople are gorgeous, and her writing style is very straightforward; but I simply did not connect to any of the characters or the implausible plot for me to continue reading after page 200. It’s a shame, because, having read some of her Thomas Pitt novels, I was expecting something much better.