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THE SECRETS OF WISHTIDE

The Secrets of Wishtide is another Victorian murder mystery with a smart, articulate sleuth and dark Dickensian overtones.  The premise of Kate Saunders’ Laetitia Rodd series is a clever one. When Mrs. Rodd’s husband died, he left her virtually penniless. To help out with her expenses, her brother (a noted London barrister who specializes in murder cases) invites her to surreptitiously investigate problems he is not in a position to solve. In The Secrets of Wishtide, she takes a post as a governess to two well-to-do young girls. In truth, Mrs. Rodd goes to Wishtide at the behest of the girls’ father, who is concerned about his son’s passion for a mysterious older woman and wants Mrs. Rodd to uncover the woman’s past before his son gets even more foolishly involved.

That’s the original premise, but as soon as Mrs. Rodd begins her new job, the inquisitive quasi-governess uncovers a great deal more about Calderstone family confidences that have been hidden for years. She also dredges up all the old secrets of the attractive and seductive Helen Orme. That part of Mrs. Rodd’s task is relatively simple. In the course of her investigations, however, corpses begin to appear. And those corpses are tangentially related to the Calderstones and Helen Orme. Young Charles Calderstone, accused of two of those murders, ends up in Newgate Prison. At trial, he will be defended by Laetitia Rodd’s brother, so there is some urgency about finding the real killer. Mrs. Rodd now has a new task.

By the time the plot unravels at the end of The Secrets of Wishtide, Mrs. Rodd has discovered all the connections tying the novel’s storylines together (much to the annoyance of Detective Blackbeard, a Jack Webb sort of character who only wants facts and who definitely doesn’t trust woman’s intuition). The detective is a stock foil to her investigations, but he has a charming side, too, as do all the characters in what turns out to be a charming story. Mrs. Rodd narrates her adventures with a lightheartedness that belies the darkness underlying the plots. This equilibrium between sunlight and shadow generates a wonderfully balanced book which readers of Victorian novels will thoroughly appreciate. Think, for example, of how Charles Dickens consistently adds frivolity to Gothic madness and mayhem.

And speaking of Dickens, there is a connection between one of his novels and the ultimate unraveling of The Secrets of Wishtide. In her Afterword, Kate Saunders reveals that the Wishtide secrets grew out of her curiosity about an unexplored facet of one of Dickens’ tales. While I was reading Mrs. Rodd’s narration, I didn’t catch the parallels at all. Maybe it’s been too long since I was a Dickens’ “nerd,” as Saunders calls herself. In hindsight, though, I can see exactly what and how she was extrapolating. Her readers will have fun trying to guess this secret, too. I’m keeping the mysterious Dickens allusion undisclosed for now, while recommending Saunders’ Laetitia Rodd multi-layered mystery for a satisfying solution.  –  Ann Ronald

Also available by Kate Saunders: Five Children on the Western Front; The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop; Beswitched; The Land of Neverendings; Magicalamity; The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix; Laetitia Rodd and The Case of The Wandering Scholar; The Marrying Game; Night Shall Overtake Us; Cat and the Stinkwater War; The Great Reindeer Disaster; The Little Secret; Lily Josephine; Wild Young Bohemians; The Belfry Witches Fly Again; Eighteen Layers of Hell; Broomsticks in Space; Trouble on The Planet Christmas (Nov. 2020).

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