The fourth book in Anna Lee Huber’s Verity Kent series follows closely on the heels of the end of the previous novel, Penny for Your Secrets, where some mysteries were solved and some were left for another day. When A Pretty Deceit begins, Verity and her husband Sidney are off to visit Verity’s aunt to help her resolve some issues regarding the destruction of her manor by the airmen that billeted there from the airbase next to her aunt’s property in Wiltshire.
Verity has a great deal of sympathy for her aunt who, like almost everyone, has had her fair share of loss from the Great War, but she also believes that the drama surrounding her aunt’s complaints is largely self-inflicted. When Verity and Sidney arrive, however, they find that there is more going on than they anticipated – items of value disappearing, talk of ghosts in the west garden, and a maid that has all but vanished. Verity is not convinced that anything nefarious is going on though, until the body of the groundskeeper shows up in the same area the ghosts are said to frequent. Strangely the body appears unharmed and is surrounded by recently dug holes in the garden. Was the groundskeeper trying to bury something or find something? Or was the murderer?
In the meantime, Verity and Sidney are still trying to find something on Lord Ardmore (the blackguard from the previous novel) to convict him of wrongdoing. Lord Ardmore is a powerful man and Verity and Sidney suspect he is the villainous mastermind behind some of the crimes they’ve investigated, but it remains unclear what exactly he is involved in and what it means for Britain. Having discovered, in the previous book that his father was somehow involved with Ardmore, Max, the Earl of Ryde, is searching his deceased father’s correspondence for some clue about Lord Ardmore’s agenda. Now they are all starting to suspect that Max’s father’s demise was not a natural death and when Max receives a letter confirming this and giving them a clue as to where to find the information to bring down Ardmore, Max, Verity, and Sidney begin a wild goose chase across Great Britain to find that information. When the goose chase leads back to Wiltshire and the airbase next to Verity’s aunt, it becomes clear that the cases are intimately linked.
A Pretty Deceit is a whirlwind of a mystery, and the reader must keep their wits about them in order to follow all the threads that Ms. Huber so masterfully weaves together. At the same moment, the mystery involves a man who tried to kill Verity in the war, the airbase next to her aunt, Lord Ardmore and his cronies, Max’s murdered father, and Verity’s aunt’s groundskeeper. And of course, some red herrings thrown in along the way.
The relationship between Verity and Sidney continues to be explored. A mere four months previously, Sidney was thought to be a casualty of the war. Since being reunited, Verity has had to grapple with her feelings of betrayal over a brief sexual liaison she had with a fellow agent when she believed Sydney was dead, and she had started to develop feelings for Max as well. Sidney knows this and is understanding of the situation but this novel brings not only Max into the picture again but also Verity’s former lover. It’s a great deal for a young couple to handle. It’s clear that parts of their relationship are strong and other parts are more fragile. I enjoyed getting to know both characters a little better in A Pretty Deceit. My fingers are crossed but I have a feeling a reckoning is coming!
When I picked up this book for review, I had read Ms. Huber’s A Lady Darby Mystery series (also excellent) but not this one, so I decided to read the previous Verity Kent books and I’m so glad I did. Ms. Huber is very strong at writing atmospheric mysteries. The reader feels completely drawn not only into the lives of the characters but also into the time and place. I loved reading about life after the Great War – particularly about Verity and Sidney’s friends. There is a frenzy to the way they are indulging in life after the war that Ms. Huber makes palpable.
Mystery readers who need everything cozily tied up at the end of a book will be frustrated by the ending of A Pretty Deceit; I believe there is even more confusion about Lord Ardmore at the end of this story than at the beginning. I enjoy the build-up of an epic mystery (and the chance to look for clues and hypothesize on what comes next). There are some interesting clues sprinkled into A Pretty Deceit and a few threads left hanging. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next installment of the series.
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