I loved Beswitched and Five children on the Western Front but had never read any of Kate Saunders’ adult novels. When I saw that The Secrets of Wishtide was to be the first in a series about a Victorian lady investigator, I was eager to read it.
‘Mrs Laetitia Rodd is the impoverished widow of an Archdeacon, living modestly in Hampstead with her landlady Mrs Bentley. She is also a private detective of the utmost discretion. In winter 1850, her brother Frederick, a criminal barrister, introduces her to Sir James Calderstone, a wealthy and powerful industrialist who asks Mrs Rodd to investigate the background of an ‘unsuitable’ woman his son intends to marry – a match he is determined to prevent.’
The book got off to a good start for me with a quotation from David Copperfield about Little Em’ly. Sure enough, the book is full of ‘fallen women’ but I was a little surprised to find part of the story a direct twist on Dickens’ novel. The author explains at the end that this was done ‘with the deepest respect’. You don’t have to be familiar with David Copperfield to enjoy the novel; the critique of Victorian morality, and the unjust fact that ‘the woman always pays’ is decidedly modern.
Mrs Rodd travels to deepest Lincolnshire, ostensibly as governess to two girls but really to find out the truth about the ‘unsuitable woman’. No sooner has she achieved this than the case takes an uglier turn with several savage murders. The evidence points to Sir James’s son Charles as the culprit and he is arrested. Laetitia and her brother are convinced he’s innocent and our female detective ends up putting her own life in danger in order to get the real criminal brought to justice.
The book is made by the character of Laetitia Rodd. She’s middle aged, still grieving over the loss of her husband, yet putting her energy to use in helping others. She is kindness itself but shrewd with it and not easily taken in. Victorian family life is believably described but Kate Saunders sensibly doesn’t attempt to reproduce nineteenth century speech. (If she has done, it doesn’t show.) I loved this, read it quickly, and look forward to the next Laetitia Rodd mystery.
I read this book courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.