This book brings together a number of my literary loves:
- Victorian England
- Crime and detection
- Literary allusions, and
- A companion to take me through the story.
It’s the kind of recipe that it is easy get very wrong, and so I was delighted to find that Kate Saunders gets it very right.
Laetitia Rodd was the widow of an archdeacon, and, with limited means, she had taken lodgings with Mrs Mary Bentley, and they had become good friends.
She had been offered a home by her brother, Frederick Tyson. He was one of London’s most celebrated criminal barristers, but was is also the father of ten children, with another expected, and his wife was a little inclined to see Laetitia as a poor relation and to expect her to take on the role of nurse of governess rather often. She loved the children, she was sorry that she had none of her own, and so she made diplomatic excuses and moved out.
Fred understood, and he did what he could to help her. He knew that ladies could move in circles that gentlemen could not, and that they could find out things that no gentleman could ever find out for himself. And so, from time to time, he called on her services for work she described as ‘Management and Prevention of Scandal.’
That role suited her well. She was what my mother would call ‘a people person’, and at fifty-two, with many years as a minister’s wife behind her she had the life experience as well as the good sense to deal with whatever was required her. She missed her husband and was glad to be kept busy; and that she had a little more money to make life more comfortable for herself and her landlady was a lovely bonus.
I had been worried that this would feel a little contrived, but it didn’t at all. I was delighted that Fred had thought of a wonderful way to help both his sister and himself, and I was caught up with a wonderful band of characters, all so very well drawn, from the very start.
I was a little sorry that all of this had happened before the story began, and that Laetitia already had a number of cases behind her, but the story had such promise, I was so taken with Laetitia’s storytelling, that I was eager to keep reading and to find out what her next case involved.
Sir James Calderstone, head of the Calderstone family of Wishtide in Lincolnshire, had a problem that he wanted to be handled with tact and discretion. His only son, Charles, was set on marrying a lady who he believed was most unsuitable. Sir James wanted a wedding to be prevented at all costs, but he did not want his son to know what he was doing, and he did not want a breath of scandal.
Charles is independently wealthy, thanks to an inheritance from his mother’s side of the family, so he had no need of his father’s approval. Except that the lady in question – Helen Orme, a young widow who had arrived at Wishtide to teach those same two girls to speak Italian, before catching the eye of their brother – had said that she would not marry him without his family’s consent.
Laetitia was to travel to Wishtide as a new governess to ‘finish’ the two daughters of the house before they went out into society. And, by way of what her brother described as ‘a little genteel probing and perhaps a modicum of eavesdropping’, to uncover the past of which Helen would say very little.
She found that there was a great deal wrong in the Calderstone family, that there was a great deal that Sir James hadn’t told her, that there was a great family secret; and when she met Helen she liked her very much ….
I won’t say too much about the story, but I will say that it was very well constructed, that it drew in a wonderful range of characters and settings, and that I was always eager to keep turning the pages.
The literary allusions are very well done. If you spot them you’ll appreciate them, but if you don’t it won’t spoil the story at all.
There’s a nice streak of feminism; well planted in the story, because the characters and the events are firmly rooted in their own era
Those events escalated to a wonderfully dramatic ending.
If I was picky I would say that I would have liked a few less crime fiction tropes in that ending, but I don’t want to be picky, because I was engaged and entertained very well by this historical mystery.
I was sorry when the story was over; but I’m very glad that this is the first book of a series, and I’m looking forward to meeting Laetitia and her family and friends again.