Jane Steen


Lady Helena Investigates (2018)


Lady Helena Investigates (2018)

Set in Sussex in 1881

Lady Helena Whitcombe survived the death of her first love, and now she must get past the accidental death of her husband. Except that her husband’s doctor doesn’t think the drowning was an accident, but a murder.

Helena’s is the youngest of her siblings, and as was common at the time, has nieces and nephews closer in age to her than her oldest siblings. Despite being a grown woman, many of her older siblings attempt to manage her life, and at first she doesn’t have the strength to stop them, but as time passes and she settles into being a widow, she begins to discover herself, in a way she hadn’t since she was a teenager.

I can’t have you back, so I’m forced to move forward with my life. I let Daniel’s death reduce me to some kind of paralysis, but you rescued me from it in the end. Perhaps this time I can find the strength to do without a rescuer.”

This is a murder mystery, but the story is as much about Helena’s growth and self-discovery as it is about discovering whether her husband was murdered, and why.

(D)eepest mourning should be carried out with the mirrors covered, you know. You’re not supposed to be looking at yourself and considering who you are.

That’s an interesting concept. In a way it feels cruel, but in another way, it makes sense–you probably shouldn’t be making life changing decisions in the depths of grief.

Although her siblings were a bit overwhelming to keep straight at first, and I wondered about the motives of her brother, eventually they became distinct personalities.

“I find this house terribly quiet by comparison.”

“I have just as many visitors as I want, thank you, Blanche. And don’t forget I’m still in deep mourning.”

I didn’t mention that several of my regular visitors, hearing of Blanche’s presence, would delay their next visit until she was gone. Blanche’s little assertions of superiority and gripes about money tended to put people off.

I also began to appreciate Michael, who was clearly dyslexic, even if that concept was unknown at the time, and who worked around his handicap as a wealthy lord might–buy hiring good men to be his secretaries.

It was almost unheard-of for Michael to look anyone directly in the eye, with the exception of his children.

“They’re in Papa’s map chest, quite nicely preserved. In fact, would you like the map chest itself? You always enjoyed playing with it when you were a little girl.”

“Michael dislikes it,” added Annette. “He says all the little compartments under the glass lid are crooked, and he doesn’t like the way the glass reflects. You know how fussy he is.”

This is not a thriller. There are no chases or murderers hiding in the dark with sharp knives. But there is plenty of death–the deaths common to the times, of childbirth and illness. But it is, as I said, a discovery of the past and Helena’s own strengths.

I very much enjoyed it.

Publisher: Aspidistra Press
Rating: 8/10