The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett – Book Review – Historical Mystery

Here’s the blurb;

‘1871. An age of discovery and progress. But for the Wainwright family, residents of the gloomy Teesbank Hall in County Durham the secrets of the past continue to overshadow their lives. 

Harriet would not have taken the job of governess in such a remote place unless she wanted to hide from something or someone. Her charge is Eleanor, the daughter of the house, a fiercely bright eighteen-year-old, tortured by demons and feared by relations and staff alike. But it soon becomes apparent that Harriet is not there to teach Eleanor, but rather to monitor her erratic and dangerous behaviour – to spy on her. 

Worn down by Eleanor’s unpredictable hostility, Harriet soon finds herself embroiled in Eleanor’s obsession – the Wainwright’s dark, tragic history. As family secrets are unearthed, Harriet’s own begin to haunt her and she becomes convinced that ghosts from the past are determined to reveal her shameful story.

For Harriet, like Eleanor, is plagued by deception and untruths.’

The Deception of Harriet Fleet is a deeply atmospheric novel, tightly wrapped up in the injustices of how women were treated in the 1800s, when they were expected to shut up and look pretty. But, none of the women in this story are pretty – they are all haunted – by the events that have befallen them and on which the societal norms of the period can be blamed.

Eleanor is a deeply troubled young woman, Harriet, her governess, is running from her past, and even the household servants are subjected to the whim of their master, Mr Wainwright. Wrap that around a family tragedy that no one will talk about, and the novel becomes engrossing and fascinating, even as it repels. The way the women of the story are so completing misunderstood makes for harrowing reading, and when the double truth is eventually revealed it feels satisfying, even as shocking as it is. I confess, I didn’t predict either of the mysteries.

I picked this book from the Amazon 99p sale, and I’m so glad I did. A well-thought out novel, which doesn’t drop the suspense until near the end – and even then, I think it’s understandable.

The Deception of Harriet Fleet is available now.

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Book Review – The Earthly Gods by Nick Brown (historical fiction)

Here’s the blurb;

“Unable to make any progress in locating the missing Indavara, a desperate Cassius has been given an unrewarding assignment in Antioch. But when an old ally’s daughter is kidnapped, he feels duty-bound to repay a long standing debt. Disillusioned with the tawdry demands of the Imperial Security Service, he disobeys his superiors and leaves Syria, determined to do some good.

Accompanied by nomadic chieftain Kabir and a trio of warriors, Cassius soon finds himself in Greece hunting a vicious band of slave-traders trafficking women across the Empire. But these are no common criminals, and as Cassius sets out to bring them down, he finds himself up against ruthless, cunning men with powerful friends and a lot to lose.”

This is the first Agent of Rome novel that I’ve read, but about the fourth or fifth ‘Roman’ novel I’ve read in recent weeks.

This novel is different to all the others as it is entirely fictitious and not reliant on an historical event, or on an important battle. Instead, the story reads a little more like a travelogue through some of the Roman provinces, ending up in Byzantium. For me, this wasn’t a particularly thrilling account, concerned rather too much with money, horses and obtaining food and somewhere pleasant to sleep (which seems to have been almost impossible).

The main ‘mystery’ itself – concerned with three missing girls from a Syrian tribe that one of the main characters has come upon in a previous novel, seemed very thin in places – I felt there was a lot of ‘padding’ to the story and not actually much story but a lot of travelling and interaction with other Romans who Cassius is trying to avoid – as effectively he’s AWOL from his post. This was perhaps done as a literary invention to create some tension to the novel, in which case, I don’t think it was very successful.

The sub-plot, concerned with Cassius finding his missing bodyguard, is given little room in the novel – just the odd chapter here and there told from the missing man’s point of view – and the eventual reason for the kidnapping of his bodyguard is not so much far-fetched, as downright disappointing, and his eventual discovery is accomplished incredibly quickly in the end and without any great drama.

Overall, I find the novel to be enjoyable but not riveting and although I read it quite quickly, some of that was down to simple perseverance. Perhaps I would have done better to start with an earlier book in the series but I’m not sure that Cassius, with all his arrogance, will ever quite be my idea of any sort of hero.

And you can buy it here;