The fifth novel in Anna Lee Huber’s Verity Kent series finds Verity surprised by the appearance of her German great aunt, Ilse. She’s surprised for one thing because it’s 1919, and in England, Germans weren’t especially beloved; and for another, she knows her aunt is elderly and fragile and wonders why she’s made the arduous journey to her niece’s side.
The two have always been close, and during the war, when Verity worked for British Intelligence, she even placed a German deserter at her aunt’s home for a time. Verity is still wracked with guilt over this. Her aunt has appeared with a new and beautiful young maid, as her long time maid has died of the Spanish flu.
While this book is very much set in 1919, it’s also echoed in today’s universe, where we are dealing with a pandemic that’s not quite over and that has caused a massive amount of loss. While Huber doesn’t specifically deal with the 1918-1919 pandemic, she deals very much with the emotional aftermath. She frames it in terms of her 1919 characters, but the contemporary grief many of us are feeling is there on every page. This is a beautifully written and observed depiction of grief in its many forms.
We see it in Ilse’s missing of her homeland; in Verity’s mother’s tartness and resentment, covering her grief for the loss of her son; and most of all in Verity’s stiff upper lip, stick your feelings deep down inside attitude. She’s spent her time, instead of grieving, working for British intelligence, something, thanks to the official secrets act, she can’t discuss. For a time, she’d thought her beloved husband, Sidney, was dead. Happily Sidney is alive, but Verity’s brother Rob did not survive the war and she has not been able to force herself to return home since his death. It’s caused a large rift between Verity and her mother.
Because Ilse is so elderly and so fragile, and because Germans are so reviled in London, Verity decides the best place for her would be her parent’s home in the Yorkshire Dales. Verity is returning home after a long time away. As anyone who returns to their childhood home after a long absence has found – things have changed. Verity’s surviving brothers, Freddy and Tim, are also veterans dealing with the war’s aftermath in different ways. Freddy is a physician with a wife and a child; Tim seems aimless and distracted. Her mother is angry that Verity has been away for so long. And Sidney is acclimating himself to Verity’s childhood home. As he’s a certified war hero with a medal to prove it, things are easier for him, though there’s still a bit of a gulf between him and Verity as she refuses to give in to her grief.
When her aunt’s maid is discovered murdered, Verity and Sidney snap into detecting mode, making an appealing and intelligent sleuthing couple. While I enjoyed the mystery and the clever threads that lead to a solution, what I thought was so strong about this book was the depiction of Verity’s grief. Reader, she does let it out, and the meticulous character delineation that is a hallmark of Huber’s writing makes it all the more powerful. This is a beautifully written and told story.