Book review: The Secrets of Wishtide

Author Kate Saunders in 2015, at the 2014 Costa Book Awards.
PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS

Author Kate Saunders in 2015, at the 2014 Costa Book Awards.

The Secrets of Wishtide
Kate Saunders
Bloomsbury $30

This gentle, clever book is described on the cover as A Laetitia Rodd Mystery. And Letty Rodd is as delightful a detective as her mystery is a delight to read. It is unashamedly Dickensian in style and is set in 1850 in both North London (Hampstead, Highgate and the East End of the city) and the countryside of Lincolnshire.

Mrs Rodd is the genteel widow of a parson with whom she had had a very happy life. In straightened circumstances she lives simply in Highgate, renting her accommodation from Mrs Bentley, a relatively poor but honourable woman who has become her friend. Laetitia is sometimes engaged by her brother, a successful criminal lawyer, to undertake private investigations. In this case she is to determine the background of a woman that the son of Sir James Calderstone wishes to marry. The prospective bride is thought to be 'unsuitable'.

The Secrets of Wishtide
Kate Saunders
Bloomsbury $30
Supplied

The Secrets of Wishtide Kate Saunders Bloomsbury $30

This begins a compelling journey into 19th century England. Laetitia makes her gentle, sentient and intuitive way through what turn out to be murkier and murkier events in the lives of everyone whom she encounters. Her foil in these investigations is Inspector Blackbeard, an honest, upright, determined policeman who goes by 'facts' rather than intuitions.

In one sense then, The Secrets of Wishtide is centred on what might be thought to be a standard type of crime fiction plot and two typical investigators, one public and one private. Yet the plot convinces and the detectives are characterised so carefully that their every interaction charms.

It is the England of the time, so there are foul deeds and the clash of the classes (much as present-day England). The villain is a despicable blackguard, a psychopath before such a term had been invented. The working classes will do anything for half a crown and a warm gin. The gentry are just as wicked but cover it more adeptly.

However, the book is so well written that it is not clichéd. I found the pages being turned ever more slowly. I did not want it to end and look forward to the next Laetitia Rodd mystery.

- Ken Strongman

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