July 1831. In the midst of their idyllic honeymoon in England’s Lake District, Kiera and Gage’s seclusion is soon interrupted by a missive from her new father-in-law. A deadly incident involving a distant relative of the Duke of Wellington has taken place at an abbey south of Dublin, Ireland, and he insists that Kiera and Gage look into the matter.
Intent on discovering what kind of monster could murder a woman of the cloth, the couple travel to Rathfarnham Abbey school. Soon a second nun is slain in broad daylight near a classroom full of young girls. With the sinful killer growing bolder, the mother superior would like to send the students home, but the growing civil unrest in Ireland would make the journey treacherous.
Before long, Kiera starts to suspect that some of the girls may be hiding a sinister secret. With the killer poised to strike yet again, Kiera and Gage must make haste and unmask the fiend, before their matrimonial bliss comes to an untimely end.
Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, July 2016
Time and Setting: Scotland and Ireland, 1831
Genre: Historical Mystery with romantic elements
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars
Review by Lady Wesley
Since her debut in 2012, Anna Lee Huber has given us four novels and one novella – each of them first-rate – featuring Keira Darby and Sebastian Gage. Now comes the fifth novel in the series, and I believe it is the best yet.
The opening of this book finds Keira and Gage on their honeymoon in Keswick when they receive a message (an order, really) from Gage’s father requesting their help with an inquiry. Lord Gage, who moves in the highest circles (and does not approve of Keira), tells them that Wellington’s cousin, Harriet Lennox, has been murdered at a convent in Ireland. She had recently converted to Catholicism and was serving as a postulant while preparing to become a nun.
The couple sets off for Ireland, where they are confronted with many surprises. First, at the port town of Whitehaven, they encounter the Marquess of Marsdale, a dissolute rake who treats life as one big joke. He spins a tale about compromising an earl’s daughter and having to flee the country to avoid a forced marriage (or worse). After a stormy crossing and a rough carriage ride from Dublin, they reach the village of Rathfarnham, where they find that the nuns are kind but reticent and the villagers unkind and reticent. They are met with a baffling mystery that takes many twists and turns. The couple’s devoted and clever servants, Bree and Anderley, are there to help, and even Marsdale turns out to be of assistance when he confesses that Harriet Lennox is in fact his cousin.
It become apparent that Miss Lennox’s death likely had something to do with the political troubles that are roiling Ireland. Protestants and Catholics are at daggers drawn with one another and the occupying English are oppressive, high-handed, and contemptuous toward the Irish people. The local constabulary is no help, so Keira and Gage are largely on their own. When a second nun is murdered, everything is becomes muddier rather than clearer.
Although the mystery drives the plot, this book is also a strongly character-driven love story. It is absolutely lovely to watch Keira and Gage navigate through the early days of their marriage. Keira has grown since we met her in The Anatomist’s Wife, but she still harbors insecurities relating to her unhappy first marriage, the notoriety resulting from her work, and her rejection by society. And now, should she and Gage have children, how could she continue working with him on investigations? Keira cannot bring herself to discuss this with Gage, but she pours out her heart to the mother superior, and what follows is a beautifully written conversation about the role of women in marriage and in society, how to ascertain God’s will, and how to make the best our of bad experiences. The mother superior is so loving and wise that I found myself wishing that I could share a cup of tea with her.
As for Sebastian Gage, he remains handsome, stalwart, and devoted to Keira. His character is not as inclined to introspection as hers, but we do see him trying to navigate, not always successfully, between being Kiera’s husband and being her partner in investigation. When he goes off on a risky errand and orders Keira not to leave the house – is he being a husband who expects to be obeyed or a fellow investigator who needs his partner not to go into danger on her own? Ah, yes, these two will have many challenges as they begin their next investigation, the disappearance of Gage’s cousin Alfred in the wilds of Dartmoor.
I cannot recommend the Lady Darby series strongly enough, and while this one works as a stand-alone, for maximum effect, they really should be read in order. Anna Lee Huber is a supremely talented author, and these books are complex, impeccably plotted, and clearly well-researched. In addition to creating the wonderful characters, she brings the culture and the landscape into full view, and there is a strong sense of place. I can’t wait until we get to Dartmoor!