Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Anatomist's Wife by Anne Lee Huber

First Sentence:  The scream froze me in my tracks, but the shout that followed propelled me out of my indecision and around the hedge line of the maze.
Lady Kiera Darby is staying with her sister and brother-in-law in order to recover public notoriety heaped on her after her husband’s death. Her peace quickly ends with the murder of a house-party guest, and the request by an enquiry agent, and fellow guest, asking for her to help by employing the skills others deemed unnatural.
There’s no peaceful lead-in here. Huber throws the reader directly into the story while very skillfully introducing the characters, their connections.  This is particularly true of the protagonist. 
The thing which differentiates Lady Kierra from other similar protagonists is both that she is a widow and, thus, more experienced in life, and that she has a talent and a previous background which enable her to fulfill the role she is asked to play.  She is someone who has been bruised by life and is wary, but she is also strong, intelligent, independent and resolute in following her instincts, even when others don’t pay them mind.

Some of the attitudes and relationships seem a  bit modern, but not upsettingly so.  Gage, the inquiry agent, is a bit stereotypical, but improves in the end.  One does particularly appreciate the understanding and support of Kierra's sister and brother-in-law.
We also become aware of Huber’s excellent voice, which includes a wry humor in the midst of an otherwise gruesome scene, as well as just enough period flavor to create a sense of time, which introducing us to a second major character in the story—“What made this golden lothario think he should be there?...As far as I could tell, Mr. Gage’s only talents seemed to be charming his way into house-party invitations and underneath ladies’ skirts.” 

There are wonderfully evocative descriptions—“I closed my eyes as he removed the handkerchief.  Taking deep breaths through my mouth, I remained in Gage’s loose embrace until I felt my muscles steadying.  He cupped my elbow to help e rise, and I immediately felt the loss of his comforting hold and heat.”  Interesting observations on the behavior of the wealthy further cements Huber’s attention to detail—“The upper class’s stubborn sense of entitlement could not be curtailed by something so mundane as murder.”        
There were a few failings to the writing – portents, being the first.  Not just a subtle foreshadowing, but literally—“If only I had known then…”  One must question why this is done.  They story had already captivated our imagination, the characters were compelling and there was no possibility of not continuing on with the story.  The use of portents was not only unnecessary, but off-putting and disruptive.  Let us dearly hope the author abandoned this weakness in further books.  The second issue was the weak sense of place. Beside one character speaking with in Scots dialect, there was no sense of the book taking place in Scotland.  And last, it was a bit overwritten.  However, Huber earns points back for although a relationship is brewing, Huber doesn’t overstep the propriety of the time. 

In all, Huber has given us an enjoyable period mystery with nicely-done red herrings and a solid plot.  She takes advantage of a scandalous actual trial of the day and incorporates the protagonist's past into a tangential relationship to it.  
The Anatomist’s Wife” is a quite good read with well-developed characters, a strong sense of time, and effective suspense.

THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE (Hist Mys-Lady Kiera Darby-Scotland-1830) – G+
Huber, Anne Lee – 1st in series
Berkeley Prime Crime – 2012

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