Review: Mortal Arts by Anna Lee Huber – Special Q & A with the Author plus Giveaway

Mortal Arts
(A Lady Darby Mystery)

2nd in Series
Historical Mystery
The Berkley Publishing Group (September 3, 2013)
Published by The Penguin Group
Cover Illustration by Larry Rostant
Cover Design by Lesley Worrell
Trade Paperback: 384 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0425253786
E-Book File Size: 794 KB


Lady Kiera Darby has been doing her best to stay out of the public eye after helping solve a murder just a short time ago. She has been by her sister’s side as she struggles though the first stages of pregnancy. It is decided that the family will move to Edinburgh so that her sister will have the best care available. Kiera prefers the solace of the country and is apprehensive about the move because she is just not ready to face many things that await her in the city. Especially Sebastian Gage who she has not heard from since she helped him solve his case.

On their way to Edinburgh the family is sidetracked. An unexpected appearance has sent some of the extended family into a tailspin and Phillip, Kiera’s brother-in-law, has been summoned to offer his help in straightening matters out. Kiera is very surprised to Sebastian Gage is already in residence and there seems to be some very troubling mysteries to solve.

Kiera must once again employ her knowledge of the macabre and join forces with Gage in order to prove the innocence of a beloved family friend—and save the marriage of another…

Dollycas’s Thoughts

I have been anxiously awaiting the next Lady Darby mystery and it was well worth the wait.

This is an compelling story. Again Huber takes us into a castle and reveals its secrets.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Battle Fatigue. Shell Shock. It goes by many names, but for as long as there have been wars, soldiers have suffered the effects of combat and the horrors they have witnessed. Back in 1830 many soldiers were placed in asylums for “treatment”. The author takes us into one man’s tragic story and she really doesn’t pull any punches. The man, Michael Dalmay, was an artist and before being locked away he would draw and paint brutally graphic images of war. After his release from the asylum his drawings changed to his treatment and the treatment of others with “brain impairments”. Lady Darby knew him before and she is the key to understanding the man after. No one can understand or help him heal and she is his last chance especially when he is accused of something she knows he could never do.

The characters are so intriguing and the romantic tension gets intense between Kiera and Sebastian. The depth of Michael Dalmay was amazing. I can tell the author has done intensive research to portray this character as realistically as possible for the period.

Like The Anatomist’s Wife this is a haunting story. Again I stayed up late into the night because I couldn’t put this book down. This book touched me and had the tears flowing in places. You cannot help to feel what these soldiers went through and are still going through today even with all the advances. 

This story has something for everyone, mystery, suspense,a bit of romance, and a wonderful heroine. Now I begin the long wait until the next installment, coming in July 2014.

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This is where I usually put the About This Author section with the biography info that comes with the book.

Instead of that I found the following in the this month’s newsletter from Berkley and wanted to share it with you.

anna lee huberMORTAL ARTS Q&A with Anna Lee Huber

1)  We are delighted to sit down with Anna Lee Huber, the author of THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE and now MORTAL ARTS, the second historical mystery in her Lady Darby series. Readers have really connected with Kiera, Lady Darby-why do you think that is? What about Kiera made her an endearing and intriguing character to write?

I had one reader describe Kiera as being “extraordinary in an ordinary way,” and I think that’s a great description. She’s intelligent and gifted, but she’s also a bit of an every woman, who most of us can relate to in at least some small way. Kiera is awkward in social situations, but she’s fiercely loyal to those she cares about. She’s also a bit of an underdog in many respects, which makes her easy to root for. 

I love writing Kiera because she constantly surprises me. Even though I know her back story, her heartaches and secret hopes, suddenly something new will emerge I hadn’t realized. I also love her wit and sense of humor. 

2)  Sebastian Gage is an inquiry agent who finds his way into murder investigations and Lady Darby’s heart. Did you have any specific inspirations for his character? If you were to cast a film for the series, who would you pick to play Gage and who would play Lady Darby?

I didn’t have any specific inspirations for Gage. I knew I wanted him to be a gentleman inquiry agent, and for him to essentially be Kiera’s social opposite—charming and popular, but other than that he started out as a bit of a mystery. I discover something new about him with every chapter I write. I like it that way. 

I never write a character with a particular actor or actress in mind, but it is fun to think about who I would cast in their rolls. For Gage, I would choose English actor Rupert Penry-Jones—I loved him in his role as Captain Wentworth in the BBC version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. For Kiera, I would cast someone like Abbie Cornish. I adored her in Bright Star. 

3)  The Lady Darby books are very well-researched and filled with rich historical detail. Can you tell us a little bit about your research process for THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE and MORTAL ARTS and how they differed?

Before I started to write the Lady Darby series, I did a lot of era specific research, so that now I just have to do plot specific research for each book. Although, I do continue to do anatomy research, constantly trying to better understand what exactly surgeons knew in 1830 and what they didn’t. I do a lot of reading, and I’ve also visited Scotland to get a feel for the land. 

Much of the research for THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE was far more general, because a large portion of the book is establishing Kiera’s character and back story. The plot grew out of my creation of her, and so I did a lot of spot fact checking to make sure I had the details correct. MORTAL ARTS, on the other hand was developed more specifically around the plot. I wanted to focus on Kiera’s abilities as a portrait artist, and the notion of outcasts, as Kiera often feels she is. Once I decided that one of my main characters would be a war veteran suffering from PTSD, and that he had spent time in a lunatic asylum, I focused on those two issues. Much of my research time was spent in trying to understand the mindset of people in that time and their opinions of people with mental disorders. Psychology did not yet exist, so the characters could not have thought in the same terms as we do today. It was a struggle to write about the issue without planting concepts and terms into my character’s heads that they could not have grasped and still make it understandable to modern readers. 

4)  MORTAL ARTS deals, in part, with what we now call PTSD syndrome and also the frightening treatments given by so-called “lunatic asylums” to their patients. What inspired you to write about these subjects? Were you shocked by what you found in your research?

The treatment of lunatic asylums was something I had been exposed to years before, possibly in one of my college psychology courses, but I was still shocked to uncover some of the brutal methods they used, and their reasoning for employing them. I think it fascinates me because it terrifies me. Not so long ago, as a woman, if your parents or husband or guardians decided you were mentally unstable, justified or not, you could be locked away in one of these institutions. If you were lucky, it was clean and run by a staff who truly cared about your wellbeing. If not, all manner of horrid things could be done to you without your being able to do anything about it. In general, men had greater recourse to keep themselves from being committed without reason, but it still happened. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is also a concept that interests me. Although I’ve been fortunate enough to have never experienced real trauma, I do have a brain that easily fixates on frightening things and won’t let them go. This is why I cannot watch horror movies or read novels with extreme violence. It plays over and over in my head, interrupting my sleep and everyday life. PTSD sufferers experience this to a far greater degree. It is also such a recently diagnosed and accepted disorder. It pains me to know that men and women who suffered from it in the past, particularly soldiers who fought and died for their country, were branded cowards. They are what inspired me to write the character William Dalmay. And though his case is extreme, and his suffering exacerbated by his time spent in a lunatic asylum, I felt compelled to be as realistic as possible about what these men faced when there was no real treatment available to them. 

5)  Can you give fans and new readers alike a sneak peek into what you have in store for Kiera and Gage in the next Lady Darby Mystery, A GRAVE MATTERcoming out in July of 2014?

Two months after the end of MORTAL ARTS, Kiera is staying with her brother at their childhood home in the Borders region attempting to heal from the events that transpired. She hopes to be cheered by the merriment of the Hogmanay Ball, but when a young man covered in blood interrupts the festivities, she is suddenly pulled into another deadly mystery. A caretaker at nearby Dryburgh Abbey has been murdered, and an old grave disturbed—the bones of its occupant stolen. And it’s not the first. Some fiend is digging up old bones and holding them for ransom. Now Kiera must join forces with Sebastian Gage yet again to catch the culprit, and untangle the complicated emotions that lie between them before one of them winds up six feet under.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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