Book Reviews

Book Review: A Darker Reality: An Elena Standish Novel

By Anne Perry

Published September 2021

310 Pages

Washington DC, 1934.  Elena Standish travels to Washington DC with her family to meet her maternal grandparents and help them celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary.  In the midst of the festivities, a guest is run over in the car park.  But the victim, Lila Worth, wasn’t just a guest – she was a British spy – and Elena’s grandfather is arrested for the murder.

With assistance from another MI6 operative, Elena works against time to clear her grandfather’s name and finish Lila’s assignment.  All without revealing her identity as a spy to those closest to her – her family.  But this assignment will uncover family secrets that might be better left buried.

I love Anne Perry, especially her Thomas Pitt series.  She was influential in why I started writing historical fiction.  So when I saw this third installment in the Elena Standish series on my library’s new books shelf, I grabbed it.  Washington DC in the 1930s?  A “new” series by a favorite author?  Yes, please!

I’ll start with what I always love about Anne Perry – the reader is immediately immersed in the setting and characters.  Although I haven’t read the first and second books in this series, it didn’t matter since any backstory I needed was skillfully woven into the narrative.  Her writing flows like a clear creek over stones (apologies for the terrible analogy) and I’m swept away whenever I read her.

That said, I ran into a problem with this novel that I find occasionally with prolific writers. The issue usually takes one or two forms.  Sometimes the novel feels rushed and not fleshed out.  Like the author didn’t have the necessary time to dedicate to the story due to other commitments, or deadlines, or what have you.  The second problem occurs when the novel feels padded, and that’s what happened for me on this read.  The pacing crawled in areas and there was a ton of filler.  

The novel started out well enough, with the party and murder happening in quick order.  Then, I realized I was at the 50% mark and multiple characters were still discussing how they had to do something to clear the grandfather’s name.  But nothing was being done, except discussing the problem over and over again, always with the caveat that Elena’s family couldn’t know her real identity.  The issue with keeping her identity a secret popped up ad nauseam, as well as how close she was to her paternal grandfather.  I had a hard copy of the book so I didn’t actually count how many times this was mentioned, but I’d have to say somewhere between seven and ten times.  After the second mention of their special bond, I got it.  The same held true for her past assignments in Italy and Berlin.  One or two mentions would have sufficed.  I didn’t need it to be mentioned over and over again.  Honestly, I think a good 20 – 30 pages of this book could have been cut and the pacing might have been better for it.  Of course, the characters would still have had to have taken some action rather than talking everything to death.

All that griping aside, this is still an Anne Perry novel, which means it’s a worthwhile read. But it’s far from my favorite.

If this had been an unknown author, I doubt I would rate it as highly as I did.  As it stands, I gave this novel three stars.  ⭐⭐⭐

My rating system:

5 stars – Wow, I could not stop thinking about this book and/or I wish I’d writtn it.

4 stars – This was an awesome novel, I’d recommend it to friends.

3 stars – This was a good novel, I will look for more by this author.

2 stars – An okay novel, but I probably won’t look for anything else by the author.

What’s most explosive about historical fiction is to use the fictional elements to pressure the history to new insights.

Matthew Pearl

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