Desert Isle Keeper
A Stroke of Malice
Anna Lee Huber continues to deliver intriguing whodunits in A Stroke of Malice, the eighth book in the A Lady Darby Mystery series. I will go further and suggest that this may be the best book of the series so far!
Lady Darby (Kiera Gage) and her husband and inquiry agent Sebastian Gage are enjoying some holiday cheer attending the Duke of Bowmont’s Twelfth Night party at the duke’s estate in Scotland. But a lively party cannot disguise that all is not well within the duke’s family. The Duke and Duchess both have lovers in attendance; their children, all grown, and seemingly of varying parentage, appear to have their own issues with love, and the castle is supposedly haunted by friars of old. When two of the Duke and Duchess’s sons (Edward and Henry) offer to take guests on a ghost tour of the castle, Kiera and Sebastian jump at the chance to get away from the drunken debacle the party has become. Unfortunately for them, the ghost tour party stumbles across a dead body in the cellars of the castle. And not from the friars’ days – a body no more than a few months deceased.
The remains are thought to be those of the husband of the Duke and Duchess’s only daughter, Lady Eleanor, the Countess of Helmswick. Her husband supposedly left for Paris before Christmas but could the body be his? What does this mean for Lady Eleanor and her friend (lover?) Lord Marsdale? And what of Lord Edward and Lord Henry (and their siblings) – was their surprise at finding the body real or fabricated? Kiera and Sebastian begin to investigate only to be thwarted time after time by the Duchess and her children. The Gages can’t help but wonder what other skeletons lie in the Bowmont’s closets and how can they ever sort fact from fiction when every discussion with the family seems to send them on a wild goose chase.
Kiera and Sebastian’s relationship continues to mature in A Stroke of Malice. Expecting their first child, their bond and attraction to each other is stronger than ever. Ms. Huber packs the story with interesting supporting characters – the many Bowmont siblings, the servants, the villagers, the other party-goers, and Kiera’s family. It’s a large cast but Ms. Huber pulls it all together tightly with everyone playing an important role. The return of Lord Marsdale in this novel is a delightful addition and he continues to be an alluring man of mystery.
A Stroke of Malice is a perfect puzzle. Hints are dropped and picked up again, speculation as to the identity of the victim fluctuates and the list of suspects shrinks and then grows again. Every time I found a few minutes to read, I was drawn deeper and deeper into the story – it’s one of those great mysteries where you find yourself keeping character lists with notes hoping to identify the murderer yourself. When everything is revealed at the end, it is with a believable and clever twist.
If you are interested in reading this series, I suggest you start with the first book – The Anatomist’s Wife – to get the full backstory on Kiera and Sebastian. This one could be read as a stand-alone but I wouldn’t suggest it – there is just too much that you might miss! As with the other books, at the end of A Stroke of Malice there is a hint to what the next mystery will be. Sebastian and Kiera are off to cholera-ridden Edinburgh to await the birth of their child. I’ll be right with them!