The Secrets of Wishtide
My favorite mystery sub-genre is historical mysteries. I was excited to discover The Secrets of Wishtide, set in 1850s England, a slightly different time period to those I normally read. The book features Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, the widow of an Archdeacon, who does investigations for her barrister brother. The premise sounded intriguing, but I found the writing choppy, with the narrative jumping from scene to scene, and a lot of action occurring off-page. I found the book easy to put down, and doubt I would have finished if not reading for review.
When Mrs. Rodd’s husband died she was left in difficult financial circumstances. Unwilling to live with her brother (whom she adores) and his wife (who is problematic) and their ever growing family, she became a boarder in Mrs. Bentley’s home. Although Mrs. Bentley is of a lower class than Mrs. Rodd, the two have become friends. Money is tight for both women, so Mrs. Rodd is very grateful when she’s summoned by her brother to undertake another investigation.
Her latest case involves work for Sir James Calderstone, the head of a prominent family in Lincolnshire. His 23-year old son, Charles, has fallen in love with an older, widowed lady, Helen, and hopes to marry her. Sir James is convinced Helen has a shady past and is hiding secrets; he wants Mrs. Rodd to expose her. Mrs. Rodd quickly sets off for Lincolnshire to pose as a governess for Charles’ two younger sisters while investigating Helen’s secrets.
Mrs. Rodd discovers those secrets pretty quickly, and ends up being sympathetic to her. But she soon discovers there are far more secrets involved than just Helen’s; pretty much everyone in the Calderstone family has a secret of their own.
The book is told from Mrs. Rodd’s PoV, and while she’s an excellent – if at times tedious – observer of her surroundings and other people, she’s a bit of a cipher. I never felt as if I knew much about her other than her ability to almost instantly assess a person’s character, which, along with an uncanny ability to fall upon clues makes her wonderful at solving mysteries.
The mysteries she uncovers during the course of her investigation into Helen’s past started out being quite interesting, but very quickly started to feel heavy-handed and melodramatic. The author takes every available opportunity to present us with a woman who has been poorly treated by men/society to the extent I felt like I was being lectured. It also seems odd given the emphasis upon the restrictions placed upon women at this time,that Mrs. Rodd seems to move at will throughout the country, across social classes, across settings, with virtually no problem. If this were a movie it would be an action movie, with Mrs. Rodd dashing in and out of scenes from one location to the next: walking across London tailing a lead, jumping into various carriages to get across town, dashing halfway across the country for a few days and then dashing back, only to eventually board a steamer a at a moment’s notice bound for another country. Not only does Mrs. Rodd seemingly leap from setting to setting, the author abruptly switches from scene to scene, often leaving me confused.
I was interested in the initial mystery, and in the murders that occur later, but I didn’t find their solutions – as revealed by Mrs. Rodd, of course – believable. Mrs. Rodd is extremely lucky and encounters some gigantic coincidences that lead her to important clues. Each time I thought the latest coincidence was the most improbable, yet another, even more improbable coincidence would occur. I’m always on the lookout for new historical mystery series with women as the lead characters. While The Secrets of Wishtide sounded promising, the author’s style simply didn’t work for me, and I can’t recommend it.