Review of The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber (2012) (Lady Darby Mysteries #1)

Bottom line: A powerful mystery with a great new detective.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

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…

Review:

This was one of those books where I finished it and had the awesome-new-author-discovery jitters. The more I look back on it, I’m able to think more analytically about it and figure out what I liked and what I didn’t like and so on, but not many books actually make me giddy with joy when I’m done with them. So, as I do my review, keep that in mind.

First my complaints – I didn’t really like the male lead, and didn’t think he was extraordinarily well handled. We get interesting hints about him, that he pretends to be shallow and pretentious, but underneath is a serious and intelligent detective, but we’re only told the former for a few pages in the beginning, and suddenly he’s the latter, with no hints as to why he would pretend otherwise in the first place. Also, I’m not crazy about the “reformed rake” style hero (or in this case “could-possibly-reform-in-the-future-for-the-right-woman rake”). My other annoyance was that this novel takes place in high society in 1830, where apparently everyone cheats on their spouses with hardly any consequences, or batted eyelashes. Perhaps that’s true to the time, I’m not a historian, but it did irritate me.

Apart from those things, I loved it. This might be one of the few novels where I’ve seen angst well handled, and certainly one of the very few novels written in recent times where this is the case. The heroine is both strong and suffering from things in her past. Her level of angst over it, as well as society’s reaction seemed very believable considering the novel’s time and place.  Remember that these were things no one would have been able to see on TV and therefore become desensitized to. (If my wording here seems more awkward than usual, it’s because I’m trying to avoid spoilers, even little ones, as is my policy.)

The murder plot/discovery was very good, as were the pace, supporting characters (for the most part), and setting. I thought the author did an excellent job conveying the time period and location without overdoing it. There were several interesting facts dropped about oil painting in that time, but again, you never felt like you were listening to an info dump. She also conveyed what was necessary about clothing to help you picture the scene without making my eyes glaze over about corsets and petticoats and whatever else people wore back then (I’m even less of a fashionista than I am a historian).

However, despite really loving Kiera, the main character, the best part of this book, in my humble opinion, was how well the author handled Kiera’s emotions after the murder takes place. Authors all too often seem to err either on the side of “character barely affected by gruesome murder” or “character overly affected by murder of someone she barely knows and spends the whole book fainting and throwing up.” The horror Kiera feels at what is a particularly terrible murder is extremely well depicted. Though I have read far more graphic and violent murders, I was drawn in to all the pain and injustice that accompanied this one, much more than in other mysteries I’ve read. Reading about Kiera’s feelings seemed to echo and magnify my own in a powerful way. So, consider yourself warned.

Clearly, as you can see by how much I had to say about this book, it was one that really did affect me, and I mean that in a good way (I’ve got book two on hold at the library). If you are at all interested in historical mysteries – or willing to try them – this one is well worth the read.

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