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New Books Network Interview: Anna Lee Huber

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

A young woman holding a lantern, standing outside a stone cottage at night; cover of A Fatal Illusion

I encountered the Lady Darby novels through a circuitous path of Amazon recommendations—mostly in connection with other series I have covered in New Books Network interviews. Specifically, my interest in C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr books and Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs novels led to Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby and Verity Kent novels, respectively. At first, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to commit to another series, never mind two, but I kept coming back to them and eventually decided to give them a try.

What drew me to the Lady Darby books in particular was their setting, which is a little off the beaten path. Most of them take place in Scotland during the 1830s. The Regency has ended—in fact, George IV has died, leaving his brother William as king—but the Victorian era has yet to begin. Familiar figures—the Duke of Wellington, Lord Melbourne, and so on—make their appearance, but the contexts are different. And the contrast between rich and poor, as well as the harsh restrictions placed on society ladies, inspire important elements of each plot.

When we meet the series heroine—Kiera, Lady Darby—in The Anatomist’s Wife, she is a young widow in her mid-twenties. Although a gifted portrait painter, she is in a state of emotional near-collapse caused by the abuse she endured during her three-year marriage and the even more traumatic investigation that followed her husband’s death. A social outcast, she has taken refuge in her brother-in-law’s castle, but a house party arranged by her sister reawakens all of Kiera’s fears. When one of the guests turns up dead, she is the prime suspect. To clear her name, she agrees to assist Sebastian Gage, another guest and a semi-official inquiry agent, to find the suspect. Gage is, to put it mildly, not Kiera’s type: a self-assured, relentlessly flirtatious gentleman who employs all the social skills that Kiera so noticeably lacks in pursuit of his goals.

Fast forward two years, when A Fatal Illusion opens, and a great deal has changed. Over the course of ten cases, Gage and Kiera’s partnership has become firmly established. So when Gage’s arrogant, disobliging father is attacked in Yorkshire, the pair of them set off to find out what happened and to provide whatever aid they can.

Somewhere along the way—perhaps around book 6, A Brush with Shadows—I realized that, thanks to my connection with the New Books Network, I could sidestep Amazon’s unending pleas that I pre-order the latest book and go straight to the publisher. As a result, I had the chance to interview Anna Lee Huber about the entire series toward the end of last month. The interview went online this week, though, to coincide with the book’s release on June 20, and you now have the chance to listen to our conversation. Read on to find out more.

As usual, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

This—the eleventh installment in Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby Mysteries featuring Kiera and Sebastian Gage—opens in Yorkshire in 1832. The two of them have come a long way since their first acrimonious meeting two years earlier; in fact, they have married and produced an infant daughter. Yet Kiera, Lady Darby, is still known by her detested first husband’s title—a courtesy extended by society that she would much rather forgo in favor of being plain Mrs. Gage.

On this occasion, Gage has received word that his father has been attacked and left for dead on the Great North Road. Despite years of neglect and mistreatment, Gage rushes to his father’s side, bringing his family with him. After discovering his father alive, if not well, Gage and Kiera set out to discover who attacked him and why, but they have to contend with both the victim’s refusal to share all he knows and resistance from the locals, who are determined to protect a group of highwaymen (or is it a group of smugglers?) whom they believe to be the nineteenth-century equivalent of Robin Hood.

As always in these mysteries, the setting comes vividly to life, the problems unknot themselves in satisfying but not always predictable ways, and the characters slowly move toward greater understanding of themselves and others. If you haven’t encountered Kiera and Gage before, you should certainly seek out their adventures. But do yourself a favor and start with book 1, The Anatomist’s Wife. Although you can tackle the books in any order, you will enjoy them more if you read them as I did, from start to finish.


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