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Fantasy Mystery Comics Non-Fiction Fiction

A Study in Death

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Study in Death (2015) Anna Lee Huber

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.
Rating: 9/10

Publisher: Berkley

Categories: 9/10, British, Historical, Mystery, Re-Read     Comments (0)    



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