Murder and romance in Scotland

The Anatomist's Wife - Anna Lee Huber

I would’ve never picked up a book with such a Gothic cover if not for the recommendations from my online friends. Thank you, ladies. I really enjoyed this novel.

A historical mystery set in 1830, it starts with a corpse during a house party at a Scottish castle. The protagonist Kiera is the sister of the castle owner’s wife. Her own husband has been dead for over a year, but the repercussions of his nefarious activities before death still haunt Kiera. She is hiding from the society’s scorn in the wilds of Scotland, until the murder in her sister’s garden forces her out of her shell. She must find the murderer or she might be accused of the terrible crime herself. Some of the houseguests are blaming her already, their snide tongues on the rampage. Who needs proof if there is a convenient scapegoat, right? Fortunately, the man charged with the investigation, Gage, is more objective than most. He is set on catching the real killer.

Kiera is a fascinating character, alive and full of contradictions. Her fierce loyalty to her family is combined with the mistrust towards everyone else. She has a reason for that – the society didn’t treat her fairly after her husband died – but she hasn’t become bitter or vengeful. Just the opposite, her compassion stirs at the mere whiff of injustice, even towards those who snubbed her. Fortunately, she is a talented artist, and her observations and attention to details help Gage in his search for the murderer.

At first, the two of them form an uneasy alliance, not sure if they could trust each other. Actually Kiera dislikes Gage. He is too handsome for her taste, and his cavalier attitude towards women, who drop at his feet in troves, disgusts her. She is determined not to fall victim to his charms, but gradually, as he proves in the course of their investigation that he is much more than an empty-headed rakehell, she thaws towards him.

She even starts to like him … rather a lot, although she doubts her feelings are reciprocated.

The plot is fast, unpredictable, and full of tense moments, both as a murder investigation and a relationship study. I started suspecting the culprit at the same time as Kiera, not before, as many red herrings kept me from guessing the truth. The last confrontation with a villain was a bit too intense for my taste, giving truth to the apprehension of the cover art and paralleling the negative splash in Kiera and Gage’s personal accord. He ignored her last-minute doubts, and his slight almost resulted in tragedy. He saved her live in the end, but of course, she was chary with him.

Their relationship is complex and only slightly less convoluted than the murder they investigate. It changes from mutual wariness to something positive and alluring, although both are treading cautiously. Despite their irresistible pull towards each other, neither is ready to jump into flirtation or a full-blown dalliance. Not yet. When the murderer is caught and the novel ends, they are ready for the next step, whatever that might be.

I definitely want to read the next book.