Saturday, August 8, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: A Study in Death by Anna Lee Huber

I’m a devoted follower of the "A Lady Darby Mystery" series by Anna Lee Huber, so I dove in to the newest offering: A Study in Death.

The series is set in Scotland in the early 1800's. Lady Kiera Darby is a young widow. Her late husband, Sir Anthony, was at one time a respected anatomist. However he became embroiled in scandals which included the revelation that he forced his wife (a talented portraitist) to illustrate the dissections he conducted. That he beat her and terrorized her meant nothing to fashionable society—they ostracized her for her part in the ghoulish business.

After his death, Kiera retreated to the safety of her sister’s home where she found some protection in the sheltering arms of her sister and brother-in-law. But her peace did not last. A murder was committed on their property and Kiera, too well acquainted with death, was drawn into the murder investigation, as both suspect and investigator. During the course of the investigation she met the official ‘gentleman investigator’, Sebastian Gage. By the time they solved the murder, a relationship had blossomed between them.

The next books continue to develop Kiera’s investigating skills as well as her comfort with the fact that this is something she is not only good at but compelled to do. The relationship between the sleuths also continues to develop.

In the current book, Kiera is occupied with her first talent, portrait painting. She has been commissioned to paint a young lady of her social set, Lady Drummond, whose kindness and friendliness have drawn Kiera in. More, Kiera is drawn to her by the recognition that Lady Drummond’s husband is a bully just as Sir Anthony had been, and Lady Drummond is terrified of him. Kiera feels Lady Drummond is about to open up to her and wonders if she can encourage her without prying. Then Lady Drummond dies, quite horribly, and Kiera is certain she has been murdered.

Kiera and Gage investigate, though Gage is not, at first, sure that a murder has occurred.

Complications include the impending birth of Kiera’s nephew (or niece.) Her sister has a history of difficult deliveries and this one may be life-threatening. Her brother-in-law is acting oddly, straining the usually tight-knit household. And, there is the problem of Gage’s father arriving in the city, determined to break up the partnership between Gage and this very unsuitable female. Finally, there is the criminal mastermind/head hoodlum that Kiera crossed in the previous book who owes her a favor and now lurks in the background, both threatening violence and protecting her from it.

As in previous books, there is a thoughtful, deliberate collection of clues, sifting of evidence, and an element of danger that keeps things moving swiftly. But it is the personalities of the characters, Kiera’s psychological journey and Gage’s steady support along with some growth on his part as well, that make these books particularly enjoyable. I look forward to the next book in the series!