books

Anna Lee Huber

Books

Lady Darby: The Anatomist’s Wife (2012), Mortal Arts (2013), A Grave Matter (2014), A Study in Death (2015), A Pressing Engagement (2016), As Death Draws Near (2016), A Brush with Shadows (2018), An Artless Demise (2019)

Verity Kent: This Side of Murder (2017), Treacherous Is the Night (2018)

Secrets in the Mist (2016)


 

Lady Darby

 

The Anatomist’s Wife (2012)

The-Anatomists-WifeSet in Scotland in August 1830

Lady Darby has spent the last year and a half hiding in Scotland with her sister and brother-in-law, after the death of her husband and the scandal that arose following that.

I quite like the relationship between Lady Darby and her sister. It’s a very true feeling sibling relationship.

I awoke the next morning to find Alana hovering over me, a frown pleating her brow. “Oh, thank goodness,” she exclaimed. “You’re awake.”

I hadn’t been, but I suspected my sister had been standing there for quite some time and very well knew that.

The other main character is Gage, who is the son of a famous inquiry agent, and when a murder occurs, Gage steps up to look into the matter. Unfortunately for Lady Darby, the scandal that has followed her to remote Scotland becomes an issue, and because of her past, she is asked to assist in part of the inquiry.

I realized we could have waited until dawn to examine Lady Godwin’s body. She would stay fresh enough in the chapel cellar. But I had decided it would be better to have the task over and done with. Procrastinating was not going to make it any easier, and I knew I would never get any sleep that night regardless.

There is much to like about this story.

It was a terrible thing to know you wielded the power to harm someone just with the knowledge of what rested on your tongue.

Although it was slow in places, the mystery was good as was the unfolding of Lady Darby’s past.

Published by Berkley
Rating: 6.5/10

Re-Read: December 2017
Rating: 7/10

Mortal Arts (2013)

Mortal-ArtsSet in Scotland in October 1830

The sequel to The Anatomist’s Wife finds Lady Darby returning to Edinburgh with her sister, brother-in-law, and their family when they receive an urgent summons from Phillip’s Aunt to join them at Dalmay house where her daughter has just become engaged to Michael Dalmay–a childhood friend of Alana and Kiera.

This is a story about PTSD–except that it wasn’t considered such in the 1830s. Instead, men who were unable to deal with society after their return from war were hidden away–sometimes even in lunatic asylums.

Our nation was eager to welcome home conquering heroes, not broken men.

This is disturbing to Kiera not only because of her friendship with the former solider, but also because she had been threatened with such a situation.

(T)he realization of what I had narrowly escaped in not being confined to an asylum as my accusers had wished made me grow cold— but I still couldn’t help wondering if I would be forever grappling with memories I couldn’t forget.

I am really enjoying this series–the history is fascinating and the characters aren’t really outside of time as sometimes happens in historicals, and there are plenty of reminders of just how different life was two centuries ago–mostly to your detriment if you were a woman.

Plus, there are some lovely phrases and other bits.

She thrived on conflict. The bigger the reaction she got out of you, the more it pleased her. And the more likely she was to continue goading you. The swiftest way to beat her at her own game was to refuse to engage, be it with anger or discomfiture.

That’s something I need a reminder of myself right now.

Published by Berkley
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: December 2017
Rating: 8/10

A Grave Matter (2014)

A-Grave-MatterSet in Scotland in 1831

Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) finds Lady Darby staying with her brother, in their childhood home, still grieving her friend’s death. But the Hogmanay Ball is interrupted (at the worst possible moment (of course)) with news of the murder of caretaker at neighboring Dryburgh Abbey, and Lady Darby is again drawn into a mystery, but this time she is surprised to discover it is not against her will.

I very much like how Lady Darby is slowly coming to terms with her abilities as an inquiry agent (despite the societal stigma added to her already scandalous past) and all that entails.

As always, the past is a fascinating place to visit (but definitely not a place I’d want to live).

I had not fallen asleep until just before dawn, and when my new maid, Bree, had woken me for church, I had been tempted to remain abed. But then I realized that if I missed Sunday service, the next week would be filled with visits from well-meaning villagers, worried about my health or curious what had kept me from church. After all, we were the highest-ranking family in Elwick, so our comings and goings seemed to naturally concern those around us, whether I wished it to be so or not.

The mystery is very good (and quite fascinating–why would someone steal bones?)

We see the relationship between Gage and Lady Darby continue to grow, and I thought a good job was done with her reluctance to wed and his impatience with her reluctance.

I also very much like Lady Darby’s relationship with her siblings, and how she and her brother slowly come to terms with her past and then hurt caused her.

“Everyone’s got their hurts. No matter who they are. It’s easy teh forget that when we’re no’ willin’ teh look too deep.”

I very much like this series.

Published by Berkley
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: December 2017
Rating: 8/10

A Study in Death (2015)

When Lady Drummond dies in front of Lady Darby, Kiera immediately believes the death not due to be apoplexy, but to poison. Unfortunately, Lord Drummond all but throws Lady Darby out, and so she cannot–even with the help of Gage–openly investigate the death.

Additionally, Lady Darby and Gage are finally engaged, however, it appears that Lord Gage is opposed to the match.

Normally, I hate it when obstacle after obstacle is thrown up between a couple, but in this case, the obstacles were not surprises but set in places much earlier (Gage’s conflict with his father appears in the second book, but we are not given the reason for it until now) which made the obstacles understandable and even expected.

Again, Lady Darby’s relationship with her siblings is very well done and appreciated. Pregnancy was a very dangerous even, with death in childbirth being quite common, and these books have done a very good job of showing that, with Alana’s confinement and the very real possibility of her death.

I simply can’t concentrate.”

“That’s understandable.”

“Yes, but not helpful.” She tipped her head back and groaned. “I’ve only been confined to this bed for a day and a half and I’m already restless. And yet I’m terrified of moving about, lest the bleeding start again.” Her face was drawn with fear and unhappiness.

I also appreciate how clear these books are about the place women had in the world at that time.

Lord Drummond was little danger to me. For him to strike a woman outside of his protection would have been beyond the pale of gentlemanly conduct. My fiancé or brother or even brother-in-law would have been quite within their rights to demand satisfaction for such a slight to their female relative. However, Lady Drummond had no such defense. Being Lord Drummond’s wife, he could do as he wished to her, as Sir Anthony had done to me. Yes, society generally frowned upon physically harming one’s wife, but they also expected that husbands should give their wives moderate correction, so spouses who went too far in their discipline were rarely prosecuted. Perhaps my standing up to Lord Drummond had been a personal triumph, but it had also potentially exposed Lady Drummond to harsher treatment.

The past IS a lovely place to visit, but I would most certainly NOT want to live there.

I really like this series, and wait impatiently for the next book.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Berkley

Re-Read: January 2018

Set in Scotland in 1831

Lady Darby is slowly returning to society, and has started taking commissions again. Her sister is planning Kiera’s upcoming wedding to Sebastian Gage as a way to deal with her confinement during her pregnancy and as a distraction from the danger she soon faces with the upcoming birth.

I knew she meant well. She wanted me to also have a celebration as big as my joy.

One of the things I especially like about this story is just how serious Alana’s pregnancy is, and just how likely it is she could die during child birth. This is something that is frequently glossed over in historicals: you might meet eligible bachelors with young children but you rarely actually get to know women who die in childbirth. They are just part of the background you never think about.

“I’ve only been confined to this bed for a day and a half and I’m already restless. And yet I’m terrified of moving about, lest the bleeding start again.” Her face was drawn with fear and unhappiness.

Childbirth was deadly for many women.

I also appreciated the emphasis on the place of women in society at that time.

I knew what the law and society’s opinions were on the matter. I was intimately aware of just how little power wives had. They were to obey their husbands, to defer to their decisions, and when they didn’t, they could be punished. A woman had very few options if her husband chose to mistreat her, regardless of her class or status. Regardless of whether she was a duchess or a whore, she was still subject to her husband.

“Lord Drummond is a worthy, honorable man; a decorated war hero. You will not sully his reputation or distress him further by making these baseless allegations.”

“They aren’t baseless,” I argued. Gage pressed a restraining hand to my wrist, but I did not heed. “You friend is a brute. Lady Drummond was terrified of him.”

“Of course she was. She was his wife.”

My mouth dropped open in shock, and I felt Gage jolt beside me.

(The man) scowled at him. “Do not look at me like that. I rarely lifted a hand to (my wife). I didn’t need to.” His eyes swiveled to me. “Lady Darby, on the other hand . . .”

Gage actually surged forward in his seat. “Do not even finish that sentence.”

Don’t misunderstand me, I love reading historicals. But I recognize that what we are typically presented with is a greatly sanitized version of what life was like–in that way they are very much like the fantasy I also love: an idealized world. It’s good to be reminded that we should be grateful to live in the present.

The mystery I also very much liked, as they try to find out why a kind, well-liked woman would have been murdered. Which brings me to another strength of this story–the complicated motives and feelings of the people involved.

(MILD SPOILER)

He nodded despondently, and lifted his gaze toward his wife’s portrait again. I could see now that he had loved his wife, in his own warped, possessive way. Which didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of having killed her. Love was often an even stronger motive for murder than hate. But in this case, much as I was reluctant to admit it, I was starting to believe he had not been responsible for her death.

It was easy to cast Lord Drummond in the part of the villain. He was mean, violent, and bad-tempered, and quite frankly, I despised him. But his emotion was too genuine to be feigned, and his excuse for listening to the physician also made sense, even if I didn’t like it.

Lord Drummond may have treated his wife terribly, but he isn’t one-note here. And although unsaid, he’s also a war hero, and one has to wonder what affect that had upon his temper and temperament.

It’s good to be reminded that very few people are truly evil, and most people believe themselves to be the heroes of their own stories.

(END SPOILER)

This is a strong mystery and a strong story, and one I highly recommend. Even if you haven’t read the previous books, you should be able to pick this up.

Publisher: Berkley
Rating: 9/10

A Pressing Engagement (2016)

Set in Edinburgh, Scotland in April 1831

This short story is Lady Darby’s wedding to Sebastian Gage. Except it isn’t really a short story, as much as it would truly be an excerpt from either the end of the previous book or the start of the upcoming book.

If you’ve read the Lady Darby series, you’ll want to read this. But if you’ve not read any of the Lady Darby series, this is not a good place to start.
Rating: 6/10

Published by InterMix

Re-Read: January 2018

Set in Scotland in 1831

This is a short story, but you should think of it as an outtake from the novels, rather than a stand-alone story you could pick up to read if you are unfamiliar with the characters or want to see if you like the author’s writing.

As such, I think it would have been stronger if one of the mysteries had been dropped, or if the timeline had been lengthened. The number of things that happen in such a short time period is ridiculous. I get that Kiera wants to be distracted from her upcoming wedding, but to have all those things happen in the day before her wedding is unlikely. I think it also gave short shrift to Bonnie Brock’s part in the story, since his motives are far more complicated than they would seem on the surface.

I do like seeing Kiera stand up to Lord Gage, and that he reasoning for doing so is perfectly within character: she rarely stands up for herself, but she will go to great lengths for those she cares about. So standing up to his father for how it affects Gage is something she’d do.

But the story itself is a bit of a mess. I realize she wanted to get all those elements in, and that they wouldn’t necessarily fit into one of the novels, but I think those elements deserved a bit more work and time than they got.

Publisher: InterMix

As Death Draws Near (2016)

Set in England and Ireland in 1831

Lady Kiera Darby and Sebastian Gage are honeymooning in Keswick when he receives orders from his father to go to Ireland to investigate the death of a nun, who happened to have been the niece of Wellington.

They decided to go, not especially because Gage was ordered to do so, but because in the end, a woman was dead, and they were best positioned to discover who murdered her.

Now that she has willingly engaged in another murder inquiry, Lady Darby (she keeps her courtesy title because she married down) she wonders about whether what she does is right.

“I said it is part of who I am, but is that true? Is it who I am? I didn’t want to learn all of these things about anatomy. My first husband forced it on me. And yet, I cannot deny how helpful it has been at times with our inquiries. But I still feel guilty for using what I know.”

“Perhaps it was forced on you, but it has certainly been used for good. ‘But as for you,’” she began to quote from the Bible. “‘ Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring it to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.’”

“The Lord calls us to simply trust and seek. He will show us the way. But when that way is shown, we are not allowed to say, ‘Enough! Let me settle.’ We must go even where we think it is impossible, do those things that we think we are incapable of. For the Lord will make it possible; He will make us capable.”

Her eyes gleamed softly. “You may be called to a home and husband, but that does not mean He doesn’t also have more for you to do. The Lord does not say, ‘Go this far, only this far, and no further.’ He does not only call men to do His good work.

I liked that not just for the kindness the Mother Superior gives her, but for the thought that Lady Darby put into it, because she would have doubted what she was doing, and found it difficult to reconcile with her upbringing.

“In the end, we are only responsible for ourselves, no matter how much we might wish otherwise.”

Also, the mystery was very good, going places that I didn’t expect, but that were also completely consistent within the story and the time.

I really enjoyed this, and look forward to the next book.

Published by Berkley
Rating: 8.5/10

Re-Read: January 2018
Rating: 8/10

A Brush with Shadows (2018)

Set in 1831 in Dartmoor England

Lady Darby and her husband Sebastian Gage have been summoned to Dartmoor by Sebastian’s grandfather, because his cousin has gone missing. But when they arrive, it seems that everyone believes Alfred has simply gone off for awhile–he has a deserved reputation as a rake and a libertine.

The complaints were much the same. Alfred was snide and reckless, uncaring of who or what got in the way of his own pleasure. Just as Gage had feared, there was no end of angry fathers, brothers, and husbands who claimed his cousin had trifled with their female relations in some way.

But it’s been a fortnight, and no one has had any sign of him, so Gage begins a search, has to contend not just with a missing cousin, but also with the difficult relationship he had with his mother’s family–including being bullied by his cousins.

“You don’t have to be polite,” he told me before turning back to the window. His forehead furrowed. “Your family may be different, but the Trevelyans have never found such niceties to be necessary.”

“Then perhaps that’s your trouble,” I replied, perching on the opposite end of the bench. “After all, kindness and courtesy go a long way. And oftentimes family members need it to fall back on more than anyone.”

It was an interesting mystery, and I remain fascinated by Kiera and Sebastian’s relationship. They’re recently married, and are still learning about each other, and Sebastian was more damaged by his family and childhood than he let on, so things are rocky for a time. Since I have a fondness for stable relationships in my stories–and realistic relationships–I do quite like this series.

Publisher: Berkley
Rating: 7.5/10

An Artless Demise (2019)

Set in London in November 1831

Kiera and Sebastian are in London, trying to settle into married life, but murder and body snatchers are reminding people who Kiera left in the first place, and Lord Gage is reminding Sebastian that his marriage to Kiera would bring this down upon them.

What a delight, that Lord Gage.

The investigation into the murder discovers a young lord who nobody seems to miss.

“Wait.” Redditch glanced between us in startlement. “You think someone deliberately murdered my heir?”

“The evidence does seem to point in that direction,” Gage said.

Redditch sank back into the sofa as if he’d had the wind knocked out of him.

“Does that surprise you?”

He lifted a hand to rub his forehead. “Actually . . . no.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this, even if there were a few things I took issue with.

First, I’m not certain I believe Lord Gage’s softening towards Kiera. I’m not sure that seeing her flinch when he raises his hand would really make him start to see things differently.

Second, I’m still unsure about the rationale for the second murder.

The burking and body snatching bits were fascinating (and true) but they weren’t truly involved in that investigation–the primary mystery was the murder of the young lords, and I have qualms, as I said, about that second murder.

BUT

It was still an enjoyable story and an interesting mystery, and I do recommend this series.

Publisher: Berkley
Rating: 8/10

 

Verity Kent

 

This Side of Murder (2017)

Set in England in 1919.

Verity Kent is a war-widow. Her husband was killed during the Great War and she has spent the last 15 months trying to come to terms with his dead and adapt to her new status.

The period during and immediately after the first world war, which is a time of fascinating and rapid change.

“That’s what comes of allowing females to drive motorcars,” another man muttered from his chair nearby.

Americans have looked a great deal at WWII and the Greatest Generations and the society changes of that time, but those changes started during and after the first world war.

“And you must call me Helen. In fact, I insist we all use our given names,” she declared. “It’s much too tedious otherwise.”

Everyone else seemed too stunned, or too enchanted, to answer, so I responded for them. “Frightfully tedious.”

“But who cares for your clothes?” Nellie leaned forward to ask. Her wide eyes roamed over my form. “Who dresses you?”

I smiled at her horrified disapproval. “I do have a maid.” Another soldier’s widow, who had been rather desperate for work. “But there’s no need for her to travel with me.” Especially on this trip. “I can dress myself, after all.” I flipped my bobbed hair in illustration. “There are some decided advantages to short hair.”

There were still plenty of restrictions on women (lack of voting rights for one) but the war and the struggle to deal with everything that had happened led directly to the roaring twenties and then the great depression, which set the state for those changes after WWII.

Another thing I also felt fascinating was how soldiers (and nurses) went back and forth between the war and life at home. Soldiers would get leave and then after a quick trip across the channel be home and expected to behave as if they were no different than they had been before going to war, even though they were seeing truly awful things in the trenches and on the battlefield.

All of which is giving short shrift to the mystery here, which is quite good. Verity is invited to the engagement party of a childhood friend–and discovers that the survivors of the group which with Sidney were also invited–and she also receives a note intimating that Sidney might have been a traitor.

There are lots of surprises there, even though with a “locked room mystery” of this sort, there are pretty broad limits on who could possibly have dunnit.

So they mystery is good and the setting is fascinating. I highly recommend it.

Publisher: Kensington
Rating: 8/10

Treacherous Is the Night (2018) 

Set in Europe in 1919.

The second Verity Kent story finds Verity and her husband trying to come to terms with each other–and decide if their marriage will survive his letting her think he was dead for more than a year.

I was still coming to grips with his return. Still trying to reconcile myself to the fact that he’d allowed me to believe him dead for fifteen months. Still trying to bridge the distance four and a half years of war had built between us. Our five-year wedding anniversary would be in October, and yet these four weeks since his reappearance were the longest we’d ever spent together.

I’ll be honest, I borrowed this from the library, because as much as I like Anna Lee Huber, I can’t afford a lot of new releases, and for her it’s her Lady Darby series. It’s not that I won’t buy the book eventually–it’s just that it’ll have to wait till the price drops.

Verity’s friend Daphne drags her a spiritualist, where Verity receives a supposed message from a woman with whom she had worked undercover during the war. This messages draws Verity into searching for the agent (and friend) and puts an even greater strain on her marriage.

One of the fascinating things about this series is that it takes a blunt look at the aftermath of the Great War.

Tens of thousands of laborers were at work on the monumental task of tidying up the battlefields, but it would take years to set things to right. To gather up the barbed wire, the twisted scraps of wood and metal, the spent shell casings. To remove the empty ammunition boxes and rifles, the heaps of overturned tanks, and the stumps of shattered trees. To extract the unexploded shells and corpses. To fill in the trenches and cratered landscape of shell holes.

London wasn’t exactly short on men wearing masks these days. Those soldiers who had come home with horrific facial injuries often had to settle for concealing their disfigurements with galvanized copper masks painted with their former likeness, or that of another person.

I’ve actually seen pictures of some of these masks, as we’ve gone through the 100th anniversaries of important events of The Great War. The damage done to the men who survived was horrifying–and yet so many of those scars were ignored in so many ways.

The mystery here was interesting, but not quite as compelling as the history as well as the difficulties Verity and Sidney were having, coming to terms with what they did in the war. It was fascinating to me that Sidney expected Verity to be totally okay with allowing her to believe he was dead, and that he might take exception to actions she took while she believed he was dead.

But it was 1919, and things were very different.

I do like this series very much, just not quite as much as the Lady Darby series.

Publisher: Kensington
Rating: 8/10


Secrets in the Mist (2016)

Set in England in 1812

Ella Winterton has spent the past four years dealing with loss and grief and anger. The deaths of her mother and brother sent her father into an alcoholic decline, and being jilted by the man she thought she loved while still in mourning made things worse.

I wondered as I had so many times before whether my mother and Erik were together in Heaven. Whether they looked down on me and saw my troubles, or whether they had ceased to care, forgetting me much as Father had.

But Ella managed to hold onto her friendship with Kate–her childhood best friend and the sister of the man she thought she loved–and Kate’s illness sends her out into the marshes at night, where her life takes an unexpected–and dangerous–turn.

Everyone in Thurlton knew about the smugglers. People in Norfolk had been smuggling goods in and out of the country for the better part of 150 years. It had begun initially as a solution to the hefty import and export taxes few could afford to pay, but the system had simply become too ingrained in people’s lives to stop even when the taxes were lowered or repealed. Much of the village depended on their enterprise, and a large number of the men were employed by them in some capacity, including Mr. Turner and Mr. Harper. We all knew, but no one talked about it. At least, not in public.

Ella may be aware of the smuggling, but being the well-bred daughter of gentry, she doesn’t really know, and isn’t really a part of the town. Really, the only people she truly has are her family’s elderly housekeeper and her best friend, Kate.

I’d had this book on my wishlist of a couple of years, hoping it would drop in price, but it never did. Since it also isn’t available from the library, I finally broke down and bought.

Why did I wait? Because I like her other books very much, so I of course was afraid that I wouldn’t like it. (This isn’t actually completely ridiculous. I have authors whose writing I either love or don’t enjoy at all.)

I needn’t have worried, I did enjoy this story. It’s full of mists and darkness and dashing men and danger. And even though I was pretty sure what was going on, I didn’t mind that Ella didn’t guess, because–why would she? She is a sheltered young woman. Her not guessing what was really going on didn’t make her stupid, or even naive, really. It just made her a young woman with no world experience who had a lot going on in her life.

Plus, there was a lot to like about Ella.

And I felt something loosen inside me I hadn’t known I’d been holding tight until that very moment.

I had not realized how much I’d needed Robert to express his regret. I’d lived so many years believing it would never happen that I supposed I’d stopped hoping for it. And now that he had, I hardly knew what to say. It was balm for my bruised pride to hear him apologize, but it did not change what had happened. The hurt did not miraculously vanish, nor did the discomfort his presence caused me.

Those last two sentences: His apology didn’t change what had happen. The hurt did not miraculously vanish.

There are a couple weaknesses. Kate is one for the first half of the book. We know Ella loves her, yet she is an enigma to the reader, not doing much except providing a reason for Ella to cross the moors. She does develop more in the second half of the book, so perhaps it was just that Kate is sick at the start of the book, and so doesn’t have a lot of personality.

Ella’s complicated relationship with her father was also very well done.

I sat listening to his broken weeping, wanting to reach out to him, wanting him to go away. He was my father after all. I wanted to comfort him, to tell him all was well. But it wasn’t. It never was.

I enjoyed the book, and wouldn’t mind reading another, but I’m also ok if this is a stand-alone.

Publisher: Brightstone Media, Inc.
Rating: 9/10