One Fatal Flaw by Anne Perry

April 23, 2021

One Fatal Flaw is the third book in Anne Perry’s mystery series featuring young lawyer Daniel Pitt and forensic scientist Miriam fford Croft, set in 1910 London.  Daniel is the son of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, the main characters in Perry’s best-selling series.  He is a recent graduate of Cambridge University, and works for Marcus fford Croft, Miriam’s father, along with Toby Kitteridge, a somewhat older, more experienced trial lawyer.  Kitteridge argues the cases in court, while Daniel does the investigative work.  Marcus, who is slowly losing his memory, usually stays in the background, except in one memorable trial toward the end of the book.  Marcus’ brilliant daughter, Miriam, a woman of 40, has assisted Daniel in two previous cases.  She has a passion for science, and, when she was younger, she wanted to get a medical degree, but that was not permitted for women, at least in England.  Miriam has done all the coursework to become a scientist, and passed all her exams, but, at this time, she was not allowed to take a degree.  This is a time when forensic science was relatively new, and fingerprints and X-rays were just beginning to be admitted as evidence in court.

This particular case involves Robert Adwell, a member of a gang of thieves, who is accused of setting a warehouse fire in which a member of a rival gang died.  The victim’s skull was cracked, apparently from a blow to the head, and Adwell escaped with only minor burns.  Adwell’s girlfriend, Jessie Beale, insists that he’s innocent and asks Daniel to defend him.  Daniel feels sorry for her and takes up the case, even though it is Kitteridge, as the senior lawyer, who will be arguing in court.  Even though Miriam has as brilliant a mind as any scientist, she does not have a degree, so she will not be allowed to testify as an expert witness.  Instead, she agrees to ask her former teacher, Sir Barnabas Saltram, to testify, even though she and Saltram hate each other.  The reason for this is gradually revealed throughout the novel.  It goes back to when she was a student, and I admit I guessed wrong.  I had suspected that Saltram sexually harassed Miriam, but it turns out to be more complicated than that.

Saltram testifies that the heat of the fire was intense enough to crack the victim’s skull on its own, and Adwell is acquitted.  Then Adwell himself dies in exactly the same way, and this time Jessie is accused of murder.  Daniel knows that both deaths cannot be accidental, and that Saltram’s testimony was wrong.  Jessie practically admits her guilt to him, but he takes up her defense because he knows she is entitled to one.  So he faces the lawyer’s dilemma of what to do when you know that your client is guilty.  In this case, Daniel suspects that she’s guilty of both murders, because she wanted to take control of the criminal enterprise.

Miriam finds a female doctor, Evelyn Hall, to contradict Saltram’s testimony.  Dr. Hall is a great character, and I hope we see more of her in future books.  Hall got her medical degree in the Netherlands, where, at that time, women were allowed to earn medical degrees.  Why Miriam didn’t follow the same path is an interesting question, which is just barely touched on in this book.  On the basis of Dr. Hall’s testimony, Jessie is found guilty.  The verdict calls into question all the cases in which Saltram gave evidence.

After Jessie Beale is found guilty, Daniel decides to look into the case that made Saltram’s reputation, twenty years earlier.  The wife of Sir Roger Daventry died in a fire at his country estate.  Her skull was cracked in the same way as the two other victims.  At the time, a worker on the estate had been hanged for the murder, and now the dead man’s widow asks Daniel to clear her husband’s name, because the family has been ruined as a result of his conviction and execution.  Once again, Daniel finds himself in a dilemma because Saltram is vindictive, and if Daniel pursues the case, he will gain a powerful enemy, and Saltram will ruin both his and Miriam’s reputations.  Daniel wants justice to be served, though, and he agrees to take on the case.  But will the consequences prove too costly?

Anne Perry has written an excellent courtroom thriller.  The trial scenes are wonderfully dramatic, and will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Daniel is a sympathetic protagonist, young and rather naive, and determined to do what is right no matter the cost.  He is also rather unsure of himself, since he is new to his profession.  Also, because his father is a famous police detective, Daniel often wonders how much of his career he owes to his father’s reputation instead of his own merits.  It will be very interesting to see how he develops in future novels.  Even though Daniel is a great character, I think Miriam is the outstanding character of the novel.  She is a brilliant scientist, but without a degree to show for it, and she also is full of self-doubt because sometimes she wonders if she’s too emotional to be a great scientist.  Miriam has obviously been damaged by her past experience with Saltram, and this is possibly a reason why she was previously unable to fulfill her potential.  It is difficult to say whether there will be any romance between her and Daniel.  The age difference—she is 40 and he is 25—would have been quite an obstacle in their time, even though if she had been 25 and he had been 40, no one would have thought anything of it.  There are some slight hints that Miriam finds Daniel attractive, but so far that is all.  It will be very interesting to see how their relationship plays out.  I highly recommend One Fatal Flaw to anyone who enjoys a good mystery or courtroom drama.  It is the third in a series, as I said, but I have not yet read the first two, and I was able to follow it very well without having read them, even though it made me want to.  The fourth book in the series has just been published.

One Fatal Flaw is available from the Recreational Reading Collection at the Art, Architecture, and Engineering Library.