REVIEW of Lady Helena Investigates, by Jane Steen

Lady HelenaAt first, the death of Lady Helena’s husband, Justin Whitcombe, seems nothing more than a senseless tragedy–an accidental drowning while he was trying to help a sheep trapped on the riverbank. But when handsome French physician Armand Fortier insists that the death might in fact be murder, Lady Helena must decide whether to investigate her husband’s death or leave the dangerous past alone.

The youngest of six sisters, Lady Helena has always had her life managed for her. And now that her husband is gone, her younger brother Michael (the head of the Scott-de Quincy family) is determined to run her estate as he sees fit. But despite the pain of losing Justin, widowhood may have more advantages than Helena could anticipate, if she can only learn to stand up for herself and assert her independence.

This multi-faceted book is as much a character study as it is a mystery. Lady Helena is a woman of the Victorian Era, used to being cossetted and confined to the corners of life, forbidden to attend even her own husband’s funeral. She yearns to find some usefulness and purpose in her life–something other than simply marrying again as her family expects her to.

As her months of mourning drag on, Lady Helena begins to train herself as an herbalist. Her mother had practiced this pastime before the death of her own husband and her descent into dementia. But as Helena explores her mother’s journals, more secrets come to light than just plant lore, and she finds that Justin’s death may have a sinister connection to secrets none of her family wants unearthed.

This book was a slow but satisfying read that fully immersed me in the milieu of the period. Lady Helena moved perfectly within the conventions of her era, avoiding the anachronistic feminism that plagues so many historical novels. Even while she chafes at the role thrust upon her, her solicitous care for her tenants and her dutiful visits to her ailing mother prove her to be the model lady of the manor. The burgeoning romance between Helena and Armand Fortier was delightful, and I look forward to seeing it continue in the next book of this series.

 

Favorite Quote

“Helena, do you know what I love most about you?… It’s the contrasts. The sensible country-woman and the wide-eyed innocent. The imperious aristocrat and the hard worker who’s perfectly ready to get her hands dirty. The confidence and the uncertainty in you. I could spend the rest of my life studying your character.”

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the review, Rosanne! I’m glad Helena worked for you as a woman of her time. I have a more typical feisty heroine in my House of Closed Doors series, and in fact one of the problems I’ve had with Helena is that some 21st-century readers go ballistic at what they see as her doormat behavior. They prefer my feisty Nell who, when you read about the exploits of some late-19th-century women, isn’t THAT much of an anachronism–but with Helena I wanted to explore a different kind of woman, an aristocrat who accepts the beliefs and attitudes she’s been raised with–for now, at least.

    1. I love it that you’re not afraid to explore the “doormat.” I think historical fiction is more compelling when the main character isn’t an oddball for the time period who strangely holds all the same values that readers today do. 🙂 I know what you mean about readers going ballistic though…in my most recently published Regency murder mystery, I wanted the heroine to have social anxiety–at first, the hero is the only person who can set her at ease in social situations, but by the end she has worked up the courage to have her own voice. Her reliance on the hero (instead of being a “strong female character”) really bothered some readers who did throw around the “doormat” terminology. But I say, why can’t we get into the psychology of all kinds of people without slavishly following this contemporary idea of what a female character needs to be?

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