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Friday, September 13, 2013

Review - Mortal Arts

Today I get to review the second in the Lady Darby mysteries.  I had reviewed the first book in the series The Anatomist's Wife (click here)  and was honored to interview the author (click here.)  Let's return to rough and alluring land of Scotland for the second in the series. 

Author: Anna Lee Huber

Copyright: September 2013 (Berkley Trade) 384 pgs

Series: 2nd in Lady Darby Mystery series

Sensuality: mild kissing

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Mystery

Main Character: Lady Kiera Darby, an accomplished artist and widow, social outcast

Setting: 1830, Scotland

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Kiera and her sister's family are traveling to Edinburgh so that pregnant Alana can be close to better medical care. Still en-route, a rider delivers an urgent appeal to Phillip.  Lady Hollingsworth, Phillip's aunt, demands his presence at Dalmay House with no explanation.  The family quickly makes their way to Michael Dalmay's family home to find that Michael is to marry Caroline except for a glitch in the engagement... Michael's older brother.  William was believed to be dead for the past five years, but he had been thrown into an asylum, Larkspur Retreat, by his father.  This means that Michael will not be the one to inherit the title nor the property, so the wedding is on hold. 
On top of that, William has been released by his brother's hard work and is back living at Dalmay House. 
William was Kiera’s art tutor when she was fourteen.  Kiera feels for Williams’s plight since there had been talk of committing her after her deceased husband was discovered to do dissections and she was forced to draw the bodies, branding her as "un-natural."  Then a local girl, Mary Wallace, goes missing and Michael fears everyone will suspect his brother just because they are fearful. Kiera insists on staying behind when her sister and family continue to Edinburgh and trying to prove that William had nothing to do with Mary Wallace's disappearance, but things are never that easy.

Lady Kiera Darby was more emotional in this book, giving in a bit to her old fears from the nightmarish time when she had to face the possible fate that William suffered through. In some ways she was a bit too adamant in helping William, which felt a tad out of character for the Kiera in the first book.  Sebastian Gage is too tight lipped, and where this may be an attempt to create an air of mystery about the man, by the end of the book it came across as toying with Lady Darby's feelings when he has no intention of being invested in their "relationship".   Michael Dalmay seemed more tortured than his traumatized brother, which resulted in his hiding important facts. A few instances this felt more contrived to draw the story out.  William Dalmay was a character I liked. He doesn't exactly trust himself, but wants to do the right thing inspite of his nightmare for the past 10 years. The reader is torn between suspicion and believing he is innocent.  Great tension created there.  Elise Remington is a spoiled and pampered society teen who needed to be slapped across the face in one instance.  She creates complications for Sebastian and Kiera. 

Dalmay House on the Firth of Forth and the deteriorated ruins of Banbogle Castle are great locations filled with shadows and a sense of hidden dangers.  The specter of Larkspur Retreat, the asylum, on isolated Inchkeith Island nearby is always looming in the background.

There were a few glitches with the plot, particularly with Kiera's staunch insistence on helping William when there is no indication that she had really thought about or grieved for him over the ten years she believed he was dead.  In a few instances characters acted in improbable ways.  The climax was spot on and a nail-biting suspenseful ride where all the lurking fears come out to haunt and chase and deliver a twist or two.  The wrap-up was anti-climatic and, sorry to say, unsatisfying. 

The second book in a series is perhaps the hardest.  The author must deliver the same success but on a deadline, all-the-while knowing the high expectations of the audience.  This was a solid entry with a few minor glitches.  I found myself completely absorbed and felt like I had been through the story personally and needed a breath when I closed the book.  It was only in looking back to write this review that I realized the few issues I mentioned, so they didn't jump out at me as I read.

Ratings: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.

Below is a brief video of Delmeny House, which is the inspiration for the main setting of Dalmay House.

Below is Carnassarie Castle, one of two castles used as inspiration for the deteriorated ruins of Banbogle Castle

To understand the location of the setting, here is a map of the Firth of Forth.  In the center, you can see Inchkeith Island where the asylum was,  just left of Edinburgh is Cramond where the story takes place.   Banbogle Castle sits on the banks of this large waterway.


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Prof. S.K. Jain said...


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