Genre: Historical fiction/cosy mystery
When widowhood saw Laetitia Rodd fall on hard times, she established herself as one of England’s most discreet and respected private detectives. She has an impressive portfolio of cases to her name, but none so far have prepared her for what she finds when she comes into the employ of Sir James Calderstone, one of England’s wealthiest industrialists.
Initially, her task is a simple one: get the dirt on Helen Orme, the refined yet obscure young woman Calderstone’s son has set his heart on, and prevent their marriage going ahead. However, one secret leads to another and soon Letty finds herself entangled in a sinister web of lies, deceit and murder.
The first in a new series of cosy Victorian mysteries, The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders (Bloomsbury, August 2016) is a fascinating puzzle of mistaken identities and buried secrets.
I love Victorian literature and Victorian-style contemporaries, though I prefer them with a Gothic twist—think John Harwood, Susan Hill and Sarah Waters. Seeing The Secrets of Wishtide‘s cheery yellow cover, I wondered if the story might prove a little too cosy for my tastes. However, while I could have done with fewer mince pies and more murder, I had a surprisingly good time tailing Letty around bucolic estates and seedy London pubs alike.
Letty is an endearing protagonist: fifty-two years old, pragmatic and no-nonsense but with a sharp, wry wit and a keen sense of adventure. In 1850, a woman of her age and means is near invisible, and she turns this snub to her full advantage.
The expansive cast of characters Letty meets during her investigation is full of complex and intriguing personalities, and no one is quite who they seem. Saunders’ prose is clean yet evocative and her dialogue pithy. However, it’s the plot that really shines, with Saunders embracing all the Victorian tropes: swindled fortunes, scheming aristocrats, caddish lords getting young maidens into trouble, staged deaths, false identities, people fleeing to the Continent to escape scandal, jilted lovers and sinister figures lurking in the London fog. Much like the Victorian era itself, all that appears proper and virtuous soon proves little more than a front for all kinds of wickedness. The story is fast-paced and full of unexpected twists.
Despite my initial hesitation, The Secrets of Wishtide makes for a swift and absorbing read and proves a promising start to the series.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for providing a copy of The Secrets of Wishtide in exchange for an honest review.
Thanks also to Grammarly for picking up fourteen critical issues and twenty-six advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!
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