Series: Lady Darby #1
Published by Tantor Media on September 8, 2014
Genres: Historical Mystery
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Also in this series: A Perilous Perspective
Also by this author: A Perilous Perspective
Scotland, 1830. Following the death of her husband, Lady Darby has taken refuge at her sister's estate, finding solace in her passion for painting. But when her hosts throw a house party for the cream of London society, Kiera is unable to hide from the ire of those who believe her to be as unnatural as her husband, an anatomist who used her artistic talents to suit his own macabre purposes.
Kiera wants to put her past aside, but when one of the house guests is murdered, her brother-in-law asks her to utilize her knowledge of human anatomy to aid the insufferable Sebastian Gage—a fellow guest with some experience as an inquiry agent. While Gage is clearly more competent than she first assumed, Kiera isn't about to let her guard down as accusations and rumors swirl.
When Kiera and Gage's search leads them to even more gruesome discoveries, a series of disturbing notes urges Lady Darby to give up the inquiry. But Kiera is determined to both protect her family and prove her innocence, even as she risks becoming the next victim...
Murder in the Highlands
The Anatomist’s Wife marries historical mystery with Gothic atmosphere and a delicate touch of romance. Kiera, Lady Darby, is the widow of a famous (or rather, infamous) surgeon and anatomist. Following her husband’s death, she endured public scandal, notoriety, and the threat of being locked in an insane asylum when it became known that she illustrated her husband’s proposed anatomy text—something no “natural” Victorian lady would ever consent to do. With her family’s support, Kiera retreated to her brother-in-law’s Highland estate and eschewed society for over a year. Even her paintings must be sold under a pseudonym.
But when her sister and her brother-in-law, the Earl of Cromarty, decide to give a house party, Kiera’s seclusion is at an end. And when one of the guests turns up murdered, with the nearest authority four days’ ride away, Philip has little choice but to ask Kiera, as the only person present with any experience of dead bodies, to assist another guest, Mr. Gage, in examining the body.
To most of the house party, and perhaps to Gage as well, Kiera (“the butcher’s wife”) is the obvious suspect. Gage’s father is a well-known war hero and inquiry agent for the ton, and Gage often assists his father, so it make sense for him to pursue an investigation until the procurator-fiscal (coroner) can arrive. Kiera dreads having to deal with death once again, but realizes that the only way she can protect herself and her family from another false accusation is to help find the real villain.
Their investigation is marked by initial suspicion on Gage’s part and prickly reserve on Kiera’s. Slowly, however, they come to trust each other at least a little. Gage shows that he is more than the rakish charmer Kiera first thought him, and she reluctantly reveals some of what her late and decidedly unlamented husband put her through. Their growing rapport is complicated by mutual attraction, by Kiera’s continued mistrust, and by hardheaded stubbornness on both sides.
I loved the Scottish setting, the almost Gothic atmosphere, the characters, and the hint of romance brewing between Kiera and Gage. Huber’s sense of place is strong, and her skillful evocation of character through dialog and action makes even secondary characters like Kiera’s sister Alanna come alive. The book is written in first person, from Kiera’s point of view; Huber gives us clues to the other characters’ thoughts and personalities through Kiera’s eyes and ears, even when Kiera’s interpretation of those clues differs from the reader’s own.
While there was much I loved about the book, I found the actual mystery somewhat disappointing. It’s not that the murder wasn’t interesting (albeit horrific), but it was too easy to solve. I correctly identifed the murderer about quarter of the way through the book, and I figured out at least half of the remaining questions, such as the murderer’s motive, well before either Kiera or Gage. I do applaud Ms. Huber for giving the reader all the relevant clues; there’s nothing more unfair to a reader than withholding information. However, perhaps she needs to work a little harder at obfuscation and misdirection, a la Christie?
The other disappointment was that the number of TSTL (“too stupid to live”) moments, which is one of my pet peeves when it comes to mysteries. Kiera makes a few monumentally unwise decisions—sometimes from pride or stubborness, and sometimes in an effort to protect her family. The fact that she gets away with it several times in a row didn’t stop me from rolling my eyes and calling her an idiot whenever the occasion arose… and of course, eventually it puts her in real danger. I suppose that tendency contributes to the Gothic feel of the book, and it certainly adds to the suspense of the climactic chapters, but it annoys me nonetheless. I hope Kiera develops more sense as the series continues.
I’m sure I will find out, because I will definitely be reading more of the series. The many aspects I loved about the book far outweigh those shortcomings… and besides, I want to see how the relationship between Kiera and Gage develops! I also really enjoyed the audiobook narrator. She does a good job differentiating the characters’ voices, including a variety of accents, and her voice as Kiera is pleasant to listen to.
Recommended for: readers looking for historical mystery with a hint of romance.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- COYER Seasons 2021: Spring