Anna Lee Huber: A Fatal Illusion

Lady Darby  #11

Anna Lee Huber’s most outstanding quality as a writer is her educated heart.  The way she parses human relationships is nothing short of brilliant.  In the latest Lady Darby outing, she and her husband, Sebastian Gage, are summoned to the bedside of his disagreeable father – Lord Gage has been shot as he was making his way home via coach.  It’s 1832 Yorkshire and travelling the highways could be dangerous – not only was Lord Gage shot (luckily in the leg) but one of his servants has been killed.  Sebastian is suffering from a plethora of emotions, all expertly dissected by Huber.

As Kiera and her family arrive at the surgeon’s home where Lord Gage is recovering, their household – servants and baby Emma – find him much weakened and diminished.  They are accompanied by their friend, Henry, recently discovered to be Sebastian’s half-brother.  Sebastian loves Henry but struggles with the infidelity that made him a reality, and Lord Gage is dismissive of him to the point of utter rudeness.  I’m not sure why Henry puts up with it, frankly, other than loyalty to Sebastian and Kiera.

As Lord Gage slowly recovers, Sebastian and Kiera begin to untangle motives, despite outright hostility from the townspeople.  It appears that a band of highwaymen operating in a Robin Hood type fashion are known to the village, and are actually well liked by them, as the money they take is redistributed to the neediest.  However, they have never before injured anyone, and it’s this anomaly that enables Kiera and Sebastian to get a way into the puzzle of who might have shot Lord Gage.

Huber is very skilled at creating a social surround for Kiera.  The differences between her own status, as the daughter in law of someone titled, and the more what we would now think of as the upper middle-class home of the surgeon, Dr. Barker, and his wife, is beautifully and subtly accomplished, as are her portraits of the various townspeople who fall under their investigative eye.  She’s also excellent at portraying the selfish, imperious nature of Lord Gage – a personality that sorely tests both of his sons – with the contrast of his behavior as a doting grandfather.

It’s obvious Huber’s experience with small children and babies is fairly recent, as her portrayal of Kiera as basically a working mother who is enamored of her believably needy infant (she must be fed and changed), seems about as realistic as any mother-baby pairing I’ve encountered in fiction.  While Kiera is able to hand baby Emma off to a maid, she’s still getting up in the middle of the night to nurse.  It’s a slice of the novel that adds depth and humanity to the story.

Center stage for me, however, was the relationship between Sebastian and his father, expertly understood and managed by Kiera, who sets aside her own frequent irritation and hurt feelings to help her husband deal with his own emotions.  It’s a tricky and satisfying father son story, ultimately including Henry’s relationship with Lord Gage as well. The solution hinges on character, though Huber also includes a terrific and unforeseen twist toward the end. This is a thoughtful, complex, and wonderful read. – Robin Agnew