A Wicked Conceit (A Lady Darby Mystery)

Written by Anna Lee Huber
Review by Fiona Alison

The newest installment in the Lady Darby series is set in Edinburgh, during the 1832 cholera epidemic. This unusual mystery involves the publishing of a book about the ruthless exploits of the most celebrated and charismatic leader of the city’s largest criminal gang. Bodies don’t appear until further down the line. The anonymous author has a personal vendetta and wants gang leader Bonnie Brock to hang for his crimes. Lady Kiera Darby and her husband, Sebastian Gage, are asked to find the author and discover his sinister motives. When a stage-play swiftly follows, what becomes clear is the citizens’ love and admiration for Bonnie Brock’s Robin-Hood-like exploits, feeding the poor and seeking justice for the down-trodden. They don’t want their hero apprehended.

This fast-paced mystery has lots to tell about cholera and the convenient availability of the dead and dying for experimentation – an idea made famous by the grave-robbers-turned-body-snatchers, Burke and Hare, a few years earlier. High society of the time is well-portrayed, and the author uses Kiera’s rather complicated relationship with Bonnie Brock to keep us guessing. Being within weeks of childbirth complicates matters further for the ungainly heroine, and the ending does ring of deux-ex-machina. The complexity of the story is aided by the diversity of well-drawn characters: a maid and valet who perform sleuthing expeditions whilst engaged in an on-off relationship, a disgruntled sister, a secret brother, heirs-in-waiting, fortunes lost, and muddled birthrights.

You can treat this as a standalone, but I think reading at least one of the earlier books would help to better understand the characters and the life experiences which impact their motives. There were many references to Kiera’s scandalous past and the relationships of those close to her. I wanted to know more. Happily recommended.