The Secrets of Wishtide (A Laetitia Rodd Mystery) is a delightful cozy mystery from English author Kate Saunders. Kate writes for adults and children and her novel Five Children on the Western Front won the Costa Children’s Book of the Year Award in 2014.
In the Afterword to The Secrets of Wishtide, Saunders has said the novel was inspired by her fondness for Victorian fiction and in particular, the character of Little Em’ly from Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield.
‘Something absolutely tailor-made for you, old girl – it’s a job that requires nothing more than a little genteel probing and perhaps a modicum of eavesdropping.’ – Frederick Tyson.
It’s 19th century England and Laetitia ‘Letty’ Rodd is a respectable 52 year old widow living modestly in ‘Well Walk’ in Hampstead with her working class friend, Mary Bentley, following the death of her beloved husband, Matt, a clergyman.
To earn a few extra pounds, Mrs Rodd turns her hand to investigating matters brought to her attention by her brother, Frederick Tyson, a criminal law barrister, who describes Letty as a ‘veritable Sphinx’ when it comes to using her discretion.
Fred comes to Letty with the promise of earning big money from major ‘bigwig’ Sir James Calderstone who has received an anonymous note making scandalous allegations about a woman acquainted with his son, Charles. Charles is determined to marry penniless widow, Helen Orme, whom he met when Lord and Lady Calderstone employed her to teach their daughters Italian. Helen may be beautiful but the Calderstones are terrified her shady past will destroy their family’s reputation.
At the Calderstone estate ‘Wishtide’, Mrs Rodd works covertly as a governess to their two daughters to familiarise herself with its inhabitants and in doing so, uncovers more dirty little secrets than she anticipated, including some shocking information about Lady Calderstone’s past.
Letty visits Mrs Orme, finding her amiable and unwilling to marry Charles. But her finely tuned instincts are telling her something is amiss. Is Mrs Orme really who she purports to be?
A NOT SO CHARMING PRINCE
‘This is a man without a conscience, who commits murder without turning a hair…’ – Inspector Blackbeard.
When Wishtide’s unpleasant French maid and confidante of Lady Calderstone, Mlle Therese, is found brutally murdered, Letty finds a link to Mrs Orme’s past, namely a mysterious man named Savile. It’s not long before Savile also shows up dead and Letty suspects a serial killer is at large and desperate to cover his tracks.
Her suspicions are confirmed when Mrs Orme is also murdered in a violent and horrific manner and her companion left for dead. However, witnesses who heard Charles Calderstone arguing with Mrs Orme right before her death cause the fact-fanatical Inspector Blackbeard to arrest him for her murder. Letty knows Charles is innocent but can she find the evidence to clear his name before he is hanged?
What follows is a tale of blackmail, affairs, romance and illegitimate children as Letty tracks a cunning and sadistic character known only as ‘The Prince’, convinced that the unveiling of his identity will provide the solution to everything.
A COMFORTABLE COZY
‘Extreme old age does strange things to my memory. The past is fresh to me, vivid in every detail, felt in every sense. People who have been dead for years are suddenly filled with life again, and I hear their voices reminding me of things I had long buried. Whereas I couldn’t tell you what happened yesterday if you paid me.’ – Laetitia Rodd.
The Secrets of Wishtide follows the formula of a traditional cozy, placing violent murder in polite society where sips of scotch and a cup of tea immediately restore colour to the cheeks of those looking pale and peaked.
The story is told through the first person narration of Letty and in her letters to Fred and Mary. The effortlessly entertaining writing style of Saunders makes Wishtide a quick and easy read.
Although not so much a ‘whodunnit’ – we know the perpetrator is the mysterious ‘Prince’ and there are only a few people he could feasibly be – there is still plenty of intrigue to keep the reader turning the page, wondering what will happen next.
There’s also a hint of a burgeoning friendship of sorts between Letty and Inspector Blackbeard which readers can expect to develop further, as Wishtide is the first of six novels in the series.
The Secrets of Wishtide (A Laetitia Rodd Mystery) by Kate Saunders is published by Bloomsbury.