A Lady Darby Mystery

By Anna Lee Huber

Berkley Prime Crime; November, 2012 ($15.00)

ISBN-13: 978-0-425-25328-1

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Scotland, 1830. Lady Kiera Darby, traumatized by the death of her husband and by the accusations made against her in the aftermath, has retreated to her sister's country estate to heal. She enjoys the love and support of her family, and finds a sense of purpose in her painting, but the peaceful respite comes to a screeching halt during a house party for her sister's acquaintances from London.

One of the party is murdered in the garden maze. Kiera is one of the first on the scene, and some of the guests who remember the accusations against her believe she is the killer. Kiera's "crime" in the past was that she had sketched the autopsies performed by her surgeon husband. In a time when cadavers were often furnished to doctors by grave robbers, anatomists were looked at askance. That a woman could be so cold-hearted as to watch the dissection of a body, much less record it, was scandalous, but in the end the law did not find it illegal. Still, the general public found it easy to think she would be capable of anything, including murder.

Even though the house party members are supposedly friends of Keira's sister and brother-in-law, most of them think the worst of her, even taking steps to punish her mentally and physically. One gentleman, the handsome and flirtatious Sebastian Gage, is willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. He is the son of a well-respected inquiry agent. Keira's sister Alana convinces him to investigate the murder, working with Keira, who can use her skills as a trained anatomist to examine the victim and murder scene.

Keira is at first reluctant, doubtful of his skills and thinking him frivolous, but she knows her best defense is to solve the crime. She finds that she has misjudged Mr. Gage, who becomes an ally, and perhaps, in time, more.

Ms. Huber has written a charming, atmospheric novel, reminiscent of the best Gothic mysteries. The period detail is rich and realistic. Lady Darby is a sympathetic character, strong, intelligent, and resourceful, and this reader hopes to see her again soon.

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