Mortal Arts is second in Huber’s Lady Darby series. Kiera Darby was introduced in The Anatomist’s Wife as the widow of a 19th-century surgeon who forced her to use her artistic talents to draw cadavers for his publications. Of course, this branded her an unnatural woman when it came out. Much of the first mystery dealt with others’ reactions to her, which grew a bit wearisome. This second installment moves past that as Kiera, her sister, and brother-in-law are called to Edinburgh to help an old family friend who has a few too many skeletons in his closet for his fiancée’s family. That fiancée happens to be the cousin of Kiera’s brother-in-law.
This is one of those mysteries where the whodunit is negligible compared to the characters. Kiera’s talents and how she used them have put her beyond the pale for polite society, but apart from the whispering, she cares little for that. Though she is loath to admit it, she does care for Sebastian Gage, an inquiry agent. They butt heads in this book as they did in the first, although ostensibly both are working towards the same goal. Social issues and conformity play a large part in the plot as well. Kiera is appalled to learn that her former art tutor, the brother of the family friend, was institutionalized for what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. Huber makes this 20th-century construct work in this setting. Much to Kiera’s horror, she finds the doctor at the mental institution sets his sights on those who are different, reinforcing the 19th-century ideals of conformity as the norm.
Huber calls to mind some other authors (Anne Perry for the social issues, Deanna Raybourn for the romantic antagonism), but Kiera and Gage can stand on their own.