Thursday, August 11, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Secrets of Wishtide

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

If you like cozy mysteries, I recommend The Secrets of Wishtide, book one in the A Laetitia Rodd Mystery series by Kate Saunders.

Set in Victorian London and surrounding villages, the novel is rich in details of daily life. The detective is a grieving middle-aged curate’s widow who has settled into a life of genteel near- poverty after her husband’s unexpected death. She has family she could turn to for support, a devoted younger brother who is a celebrated criminal defense lawyer, but he has a large brood and an extravagant wife, and Laetitia decides she’d rather find a way to fend for herself. Fortunately, she finds a place to let in the home of a sensible, intelligent widow who lives in a less fashionable district. The two women become fast friends.

More to the point, Laetitia finds a source of income–performing investigations of suspicious activities at the request of her brother. Just on time (Laetitia’s financials are at a strained point), her brother has need of her for a particularly delicate case. A wealthy, powerful politician/businessman is furious because his only son, a young man of great promise, has fallen in love with an impoverished governess. Ostensibly a widow and curate’s daughter, the woman is somewhat older than the son. The politician is certain there is dirt in her past and he wants it dug up to discredit the woman, discreetly, before his son throws his life away and drags the family name through the mud.

Laetitia is willing to investigate the woman’s past, but with the understanding that she will be scrupulously honest. If there’s no dirt to be found, she won’t be party to putting obstacles in the way of the couple.

It turns out there is plenty of dirt to go around. And someone out there is willing to commit murder to keep the secrets secret.

There are enough curves in the road and misdirections to keep the reader guessing. Laetitia’s no-nonsense approach to investigating makes her a likeable protagonist. Her sympathy for the people she comes across, from all walks of life, make it credible that she can get suspects to open up to her.

This is not historical mystery romance in the fashion of many historical mystery series. Laetitia is grieving the loss of the love of her life. There is a stick-to-the-facts police detective, himself an older widower, who is both Laetitia’s nemesis and her nosing-about partner. The respect and kindness between them is refreshing. Even if their methodologies differ, their goals are the same and they don’t get in one another’s way. Perhaps a romance is in the future, but there is no rush to get there.

Often in book one of a mystery series, the author has to establish credibility for an amateur sleuth. Why is it that a librarian or school teacher is so much better at solving mysteries than a trained detective? (Made up examples, I’m not referring to any particular books.) Sometimes the set-up is well done and perfectly believable. Other times, the plotting is somewhat strained. Saunders has taken an interesting tack in presenting Laetitia Rodd. Throughout the novel, she refers to past cases that she has helped to solve. She and the professional detective are already acquainted and he is already aware of her skill, even if he prefers to do his own investigations his own way. And her cases are provided by her lawyer-brother. It’s not as though she’s hung out a shingle. In this novel, this approach works. I had to double check to be sure that I wasn’t jumping into the middle of a series– God forbid. This was, for me, a rather unique way to be introduced to a new detective, giving her already established credentials, and she proved to be every bit as effective as her fictional reputation. I look forward to more from Mrs. Rodd.