Tuesday, September 17, 2013

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Anatomist's Wife by Anna Lee Huber

Anna Lee Huber has a second book out in her Lady Darby mystery series, Mortal Arts, that sounded interesting, but I couldn’t read the second until I read the first. Fortunately, the premise of the first book, The Anatomist’s Wife, was one I found even more compelling. I don’t read a whole lot of mysteries, but if I do get caught up in a series, it’s generally because of the characters. After finishing The Anatomist’s Wife, I think I’m going to have to add Lady Darby’s mysteries to the select group that I follow faithfully.

The backstory is what drew me to this novel. Set in Scotland in 1830, Lady Kiera Darby is hiding from genteel society at the estate of her sister, Alana, and brother-in-law, Philip, the earl of Cromarty. She has been there since the death of her own husband, Sir Anthony, and the nastiness that followed. Kiera would like to stay peacefully hidden away from gossip and unpleasantness, but her peace is about to be disturbed. Alana and Philip are having a house party. And one of the guests, Lady Godwin, has just been murdered.

A murder at a country estate house party is standard fare for a murder mystery. So how does Lady Darby become involved in solving the mystery?

Kiera is an artist--a particularly talented portraitist. When her father gave her in marriage to Sir Anthony, Kiera didn’t pay all that much attention. Sir Anthony was a respected gentleman, who happened to be an anatomist. She only cared that he was going to allow her to continue to paint. It was only after they were married that he told her his conditions. He was working on an anatomy textbook. He would perform secret dissections of corpses and she was to provide the illustrations of his work.

After his death, her drawings were discovered. Kiera was accused of unnatural acts, procurement, even murder, by a prejudiced and horrified citizenry. The malicious gossip of the lords and ladies of London was even worse. Kiera wants to put that all behind her and stay out of society altogether.

Stumbling on a murder at the house party makes this impossible. Not only is the scandal of Kiera’s past dredged up so that she is presented as the most likely murderer, but her brother-in-law, who has complete faith in her innocence, feels that she is in the best position to clear her own name.

Also in attendance at the estate is one of Philip’s old friends, Sebastian Gage, who happens to be the son of an Investigator. Gage has helped his father on many occasions and has the makings of an investigator himself. Because it will take four days for an official to arrive, Philip asks Gage to start looking into the murder and to allow Kiera to help him. Gage has the necessary interrogation skills (charm and sociability) while Kiera has experience with corpses. While they are not keen on combining forces, they agree to Philip’s request. Before long, they are ferreting out clues and getting to know one another.

Kiera is an independent, strong heroine. Her lapses in judgment are forgivable because of her limited options and her extreme emotional strain. It’s fascinating to see her struggle with the stigma of merely having witnessed and sketched human dissections at the command of her husband and society’s morbid fascination with what she has done. Gage is a wonderful partner for her, both professionally and romantically. The progress of their relationship was as interesting as the unfolding of the mystery.

I look forward to reading book two!

This is my 17/18 book for the Library Challenge hosted by Gina at Book Dragon’s Lair and my 26th book for the Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.


  1. This is a new one for me. Thank you for the review.

  2. Your review is very timely for me as I've been considering this book. Now I know I should stop considering it and go ahead and buy it. Thanks!