The Great War is over, but in this captivating new mystery from award-winning author Anna Lee Huber, one young widow discovers the real intrigue has only just begun . . .
England, 1919. Verity Kent’s grief over the loss of her husband pierces anew when she receives a cryptic letter, suggesting her beloved Sidney may have committed treason before his untimely death. Determined to dull her pain with revelry, Verity’s first impulse is to dismiss the derogatory claim. But the mystery sender knows too much—including the fact that during the war, Verity worked for the Secret Service, something not even Sidney knew.
Lured to Umbersea Island to attend the engagement party of one of Sidney’s fellow officers, Verity mingles among the men her husband once fought beside, and discovers dark secrets—along with a murder clearly meant to conceal them. Relying on little more than a coded letter, the help of a dashing stranger, and her own sharp instincts, Verity is forced down a path she never imagined—and comes face to face with the shattering possibility that her husband may not have been the man she thought he was. It’s a truth that could set her free—or draw her ever deeper into his deception . . .
“My favorite new mystery series!”
– Alyssa Maxwell, USA Today bestselling author
“Sure to please fans of classic whodunits and lovers of historical fiction alike.”
–Jessie Crockett, author of Whispers Beyond the Veil
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
You might question whether this is all a ruse, whether I truly have anything to reveal. But I know what kind of work you really did during the war. I know the secrets you hide. Why shouldn't I also know your husband's?
June 1919 England
They say when you believe you're about to die your entire life passes before your eyes in a flurry of poignant images, but all I could think of, rather absurdly, was that I should have worn the blue hat. Well, that and that my sister would never forgive me for proving our mother right.
Mother had never approved of Sidney teaching me how to drive his motorcar that last glorious summer before the war. Or of my gadding about London and the English countryside in his prized Pierce-Arrow while he was fighting in France. Or of my decision to keep the sleek little Runabout instead of selling it after a German bullet so callously snatched him from me. In my mother's world of rules and privilege, women — even wealthy widows — did not own motorcars, and they certainly didn't drive them. She'd declared it would be the death of me. And so it might have been, had it not been for the other driver's bizarre bonnet ornament.
Once my motorcar had squealed to a stop, a bare two inches from the fender of the other vehicle, and I'd peeled open my eyes, I could see that the ornament was some sort of pompon. Tassels of bright orange streamers affixed to the Rolls-Royce's more traditional silver lady. When racing down the country roads, I supposed they trailed out behind her like ribbons of flame, but at a standstill they drooped across the grille rather like limp seagrass.
I heard the other driver open his door, and decided it was time to stop ogling his peculiar taste in adornment and apologize. For there was no denying our near collision was my fault. I had been driving much too fast for the winding, shrubbery-lined roads. I was tempted to blame Pinky, but I was the dolt who'd chosen to follow his directions even though I'd known they would be rubbish.
When my childhood friend Beatrice had invited me to visit her and her husband, Pinky, at their home in Winchester, I'd thought it a godsend, sparing me the long drive from London to Poole in one shot. I hadn't seen either of them since before the war, other than a swift bussing of Pinky's cheek as I passed him at the train station one morning, headed back to the front. All in all, it had been a lovely visit despite the evident awkwardness we all felt at Sidney's absence.
In any case, although Pinky was a capital fellow, he'd always been a bit of a dodo. I couldn't help but wonder if he'd survived the war simply by walking in circles — as he'd had me driving — never actually making it to the front.
I adjusted my rather uninspired cream short-brimmed hat over my auburn castle-bobbed tresses and stepped down into the dirt and gravel lane, hoping the mud wouldn't damage my blue kid leather pumps. My gaze traveled over the beautiful pale yellow body of the Rolls-Royce and came to rest on the equally attractive man rounding her bonnet. Dark blond hair curled against the brim of his hat, and when his eyes lifted from the spot where our motorcars nearly touched, I could see they were a soft gray. I was relieved to see they weren't bright with anger. Charming a man out of a high dudgeon had never been my favorite pastime.
One corner of his mouth curled upward in a wry grin. "Well, that was a near thing."
"Only if you're not accustomed to driving in London." I offered him my most disarming smile as I leaned forward to see just how close it had been. "But I do apologize. Clearly, I shouldn't have been in such a rush."
"Oh, I'd say these hedgerows hold some of the blame." He lifted aside his gray tweed coat to slide his hands into his trouser pockets as he nodded toward the offending shrubbery. "It's almost impossible to see around them. Otherwise, I would have seen you coming. It's hard to miss a Pierce-Arrow," he declared, studying the currant-red paint and brass fittings of my motorcar.
"Yes, well, that's very good of you to say so."
"Nonsense. And in any case, there's no harm done."
"Thanks to your colorful bonnet ornament."
He followed my pointed stare to the pompon attached to his silver lady, his wry grin widening in furtive amusement.
"There must be a story behind it."
"It just seemed like it should be there."
"And that's all there is to it?"
He shrugged. "Does there need to be more?"
I tilted my head, trying to read his expression. "I suppose not. Though, I'll own I'm curious where you purchased such a bold piece of frippery."
"Oh, I didn't." His eyes sparkled with mischief. "My niece kindly let me borrow it. Just for this occasion."
I couldn't help but laugh. Had he been one of my London friends I would have accused him of having a jest, but with this man I wasn't certain, and told him so. "I'm not sure if you're quite serious or simply having a pull at me."
"Good." He rocked back on his heels, clearly having enjoyed our exchange.
I shook my head at this teasing remark. He truly was a rather appealing fellow, though there was something in his features — perhaps the knife-blade sharpness of his nose — that kept him from being far too handsome for any woman's good. Which was a blessing, for combined with his artless charm and arresting smile he might have had quite a devastating effect. He still might, given a more susceptible female. Unfortunately, I had far too much experience with charming, attractive men to ever fold so quickly.
I pegged him at being just shy of thirty, and from his manner of speech and cut of clothes, undoubtedly a gentleman. From old money, if I wagered a guess. A well-bred lady can always tell these things. After all, we're taught to sniff out the imposters from the cradle, though it had begun to matter less and less, no matter what my mother and her like said about the nouveau riche.
He pulled a cigarette case from his pocket and offered me one, which I declined, before lighting one for himself. "If I may be so bold ..." he remarked after taking a drag. "Where precisely were you rushing to?"
"Poole Harbor. There's a boat I'm supposed to meet." I sighed. "And I very much fear I've missed it."
"To Umbersea Island?"
I blinked in surprise. "Why, yes." I paused, considering him. "Are you also ..."
"On my way to Walter Ponsonby's house party?" He finished for me. "I am. But don't worry. They won't leave without us." He lifted his arm to glance at his wristwatch. "And if they do, we'll make our own way over."
"Well, that's a relief," I replied, feeling anything but. Some of the sparkle from our encounter had dimmed at this discovery. Still, I couldn't let him know that. "Then I suppose if we're going to be spending the weekend together we should introduce ourselves." I extended my hand across the small gap separating our motorcars. "Mrs. Verity Kent."
His grip was warm, even through my cream leather glove, as he clasped my hand for a moment longer than was necessary. "Max Westfield, Earl of Ryde. But, please, call me Ryde. Or Max, even. None of that Lord business." Something flickered in his eyes, and I could tell he was debating whether to say something else. "You wouldn't by chance be Sidney Kent's widow?"
I'm not sure why I was startled. There was no reason to be. After all, I'd just discovered we were both making our way to the same house party. A party thrown by one of Sidney's old war chums. There were bound to be one or two of Sidney's fellow officers attending. Why shouldn't Lord Ryde be one of them?
My eyes dipped briefly to the glow at the end of the fag clasped between Ryde's fingers, before returning to his face. "You knew him?" I remarked as casually as I could manage, determined not to show he'd unsettled me.
"I was his commanding officer." He exhaled a long stream of smoke. "For a short time, anyway." His eyes tightened at the corners. "I'm sorry for your loss. He was a good man," he added gently.
I tried to respond, but found alarmingly that I had to clear my throat before I could get the words out. "Thank you."
It was the standard litany. The standard offer of condolences and expression of gratitude that had been repeated dozens of times since Sidney's death. I'd developed a sort of callus from hearing the words over and over. It prevented them from overly affecting me, from making me remember.
Except, this time was different.
"Did you know Sidney before the war?" I managed to say with what I thought was an admirable amount of aplomb. They were of an age with each other, and both being gentlemen it seemed a safe assumption.
"Yes, Kent was a year behind me at Eton and Oxford. Same as your brother, if I recall. They were chums."
I nodded. "Yes, that's how we met. Sidney came home with Freddy to Yorkshire one school holiday."
"Love at first sight?"
"Goodness, no. At least, not for him. I was all of eleven to his sixteen. And a rather coltish eleven, at that. All elbows and knees."
He grinned. "Well, that didn't last."
I dimpled cheekily. "Why, thank you for noticing. No, Sidney didn't return to Upper Wensleydale for six more years. But by then, of course, things had changed."
My chest tightened at the bittersweet memories, and I turned to stare at the bonnet of my motorcar — Sidney's motorcar — gleaming in the sunshine. I'd known this weekend was going to be difficult. I'd been preparing myself for it as best I could. Truth be told, that's why I'd nearly collided with Lord Ryde. I'd been distracted by my recollections. The ones I'd been ducking since the telegram arrived to inform me of Sidney's death.
I'd gotten rather good at avoiding them. At calculating just how many rags I needed to dance, and how much gin I needed to drink so I could forget, and yet not be too incapacitated to perform my job the following morning. And when I was released from my position after the war, well, then it didn't matter anymore, did it?
But this weekend I couldn't afford the luxury of forgetfulness.
As if sensing the maudlin turn of my thoughts, Ryde reached out to touch my motorcar's rather plain bonnet ornament, at least compared to his. "Kent used to talk about his Pierce-Arrow. Claimed it was the fastest thing on four wheels."
"Yes, he was rather proud of it." I recognized the turn in subject for the kindness it was. He'd sensed my discomfort and was trying to find a gracious way to extricate ourselves from this awkwardness. I should have felt grateful, but I only felt troubled.
I lifted my gaze to meet his, trying to read something in his eyes. "I suppose there wasn't much to talk about in the trenches."
His expression turned guarded. "No, not that we wanted to. Motorcars were just about the safest topic we could find."
I nodded, understanding far more than he was saying. Though, I also couldn't help but wonder if that was a dodge.
Almost reflexively, I found myself searching Ryde for any visible signs of injury. I'd learned swiftly that those soldiers fortunate enough to survive the war still returned wounded in some way, whether it be in body or mind. The unluckiest suffered both.
As if he knew what I was doing, he rolled his left shoulder self-consciously before flicking his fag into the dirt. He ground it out before glancing down the road toward Poole. "I suppose we should be on our way then, lest our fellow guests truly leave us behind to shrift for ourselves."
"It does seem rude to keep them waiting longer than necessary," I admitted, suddenly wishing very much to be away, but not wanting to appear overeager. "Is it much farther?"
"Just over the next rise or two, you should be able to see the town laid out before you."
"Yes, and as I said, I suspect Ponsonby will have told them to wait for us all before departing. He was always considerate about such things."
"You know him well then?" I asked in genuine curiosity.
He shrugged, narrowing his eyes against the glare of the midday sun. "As well as one can know another man serving beside him during war." It was rather an obscure answer. And yet Ponsonby had thought them friendly enough to invite him to his house party to celebrate his recent engagement to be married. Of course, the man had also invited me, a woman he hardly knew, though I assumed that was because of Sidney.
As if sensing my interest and wishing to deflect it from himself, he added, "I know he and Kent were great friends."
"Yes, since Eton. I met Walter once or twice before the war. And, of course, he attended our wedding." One of the numerous hasty ceremonies performed throughout Britain during the months at the start of the war, between Sidney's training and his orders to report to France as a fresh-faced lieutenant. I'd only just turned eighteen and hadn't the slightest idea what was to come. None of us had.
I looked up to find Ryde watching me steadily, as if he knew what I was thinking, for it was what he was thinking, too. It was an odd moment of solidarity under the brilliant June sky, and I would remember it many times in the days to come.
Because who of us ever really knows what's coming? Or what secrets will come back to haunt us in the end? The war might be over, but it still echoed through our lives like an endless roll of thunder.
True to Ryde's assurances, we crested the second hill and the city of Poole appeared before us, spreading out along the rounded shoreline. The water of the natural harbor sparkled in the midday sun as flocks of birds dipped and wheeled over its surface. I breathed deeply, invigorated by the rush of the wind against my cheeks as the motorcar raced downward. The thrill of its gathering speed sang in my blood. The concentration required to drive the speeding vehicle steadied me, allowing me to regain control of the nerves that had been frazzled by my first encounter with a fellow guest.
A glance in the wing mirror revealed I hadn't left Ryde in the dust. Though whether he was enjoying himself or merely determined to keep up was difficult to tell. I didn't peg him as the reckless sort. Not like Sidney, anyway, whose devil-may-care driving had been somewhat legendary. But even the chariest can be seduced by the power of a good engine. In any case, I forced myself to ease the Pierce-Arrow down to a more reasonable pace, lest I actually cause a collision.
Poole was larger than I'd expected, but still easily navigable when one's destination was the harbor lined with tall-sailed yachts and large Channel-crossing ships. We skirted the shore of a lake and passed the train station, where most of our fellow guests had disembarked from their journeys down from London or elsewhere in England. I could have taken the train as well. After all, there were stops in both Winchester and Epsom, where I'd attended the Derby before driving on to Beatrice's. But I'd wanted the freedom of being able to come and go as I pleased, of flight should it become necessary.
My hands tightened around the driving wheel. Though, how that would be possible when we were all about to be ferried out to an island I didn't know.
I shook the worrying thought aside, slowing the motorcar as we approached the quay. I wasn't at all certain we would be able to pick out Walter's boat among all of the ships lining the waterfront, but true to his assurances I spotted the brilliant scarlet and yellow checked flag flying above the yacht's sails. The sight of the boat and its fellow passengers standing along the rails with drinks in their hands relieved me far more than it should have. I'd had mixed emotions about attending the house party, but apparently missing it was no longer to be borne.
Ryde insisted on hefting my larger case as we made our way down the dock toward the waiting boat while I carried my valise and hatbox. But I was relieved of even those burdens as a dark-haired man smartly dressed in a brown pin-striped suit descended the gangway to take them from me.
"Here you are," he proclaimed, passing my parcels up to one of the sailors. Taking my hand, he grinned broadly and insisted on helping me aboard. "We were just about to leave without you."
"Then it's lucky we arrived when we did. I would so have hated to have to swim across."
His eyes gleamed with interest as he scoured my features at a closer proximity.
Deciding it would be best not to overly encourage his forward behavior, if that was all it was, I extracted my hand from his and glanced over my shoulder at Ryde. "What about you, Max?"
His lips quirked, not having missed my deliberate use of his given name when I hadn't done so earlier. "I don't know. A dip in the water might be quite refreshing. Of course, then we would be battling pneumonia. So perhaps it's for the best we won't need to."
Excerpted from "This Side of Murder"
Copyright © 2017 Anna Aycock.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Dollycas’s Thoughts Verity Kent lost her husband, Sidney, in The Great War. She has been trying to move on, probably not in the best ways, but then she receives a letter saying he may have committed treason before he was killed. The letter invites her to an engagement party for one of his fellow officers on Umbersea Island. At first, she doesn’t plan to go, but she needs to find out what proof the letter sender has. The group attending the party boards the ship to the island. Verity knows some of the attendees but realizes the mystery letter writer could be someone she knows or someone she will meet at the party. As the weekend progresses one guest is found dead and then another. She starts to believe her husband may be guilty and people are dying because of it. She is going to use everything she learned as part of the Secret Service to try to find out the truth. Hopefully, hers won’t be the next body found. Verity Kent is a strong, smart, feisty and independent protagonist. Not even her husband knew she was working for the Secret Service during the war. She also has a really cool car! Meeting her husband’s fellow officers she finds that his battalion suffered a large number of casualties. She just can’t imagine her husband was a traitor, everything in her being tells her that is a lie. She meets Max Westfield, the Earl of Ryde, on her way to the ship, she is wary of him but as things start to spin out of control they start to work together to not only find the letter writer but a killer. When the secondary characters are introduced we find it is a unique group. The soldiers are clearly suffering a malady of injuries, mentally and physically, setting a somber tone, but the fiancee goes over the top to create a party atmosphere. Some of the other ladies go along at first but one game idea turns the tables and fractures the group. Ms. Huber captures the time period expertly, from the ship to the cars, the house, and the island. The imagery she creates with her words brings everything crystal clear in my mind. While reading the scenes in the pouring rain I found myself all crouched up in a blanket, like I was right there. Basically a closed room mystery with a set number of suspects, everyone except Verity, it was not easy to solve. Everyone is hiding something. When the guests start dying, and a storm takes over the island the tension starts to rise and a surprising moment twists the story all around. This all sets up a very exciting finish. This series is off to a marvelous start. I can wait to read Treacherous Is the Night, coming out September 25.
Loved every twist, turn and wave! Can’t wait for the second in the series.
I love all of Anna Lee Huber's books, so was looking forward to the start of a new series. I was caught up in the story right from the start and enjoyed it right til the end. Now I'm looking forward to another book in this series, as well as the Lady Darby books
I so enjoyed this mystery. Verity and Max are well drawn characters and their interaction believable. I don’t want to give away the plot but I would love to see more of Max in future novels. Please sit back in a comfortable chair and be prepared to return to WWI survivors and learn more about their suffering and the horrors of what treachery greed, jealousy and war can visit on the unsuspecting. I am looking forward to the next in the series as well as Lady Darby #6.
This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber is the first book in A Verity Kent Mystery series. Verity is a widow who has been invited to the engagement party of Walter Ponsonby and Helen Crawford. Verity's husband, Sidney was comrades with Walter. Verity was not going to attend the weekend event, but then she received a suspicious note regarding Sidney. Along the way Verity meets Max Westfield, Earl of Ryde who also served with Sidney. Right away Verity can tell there is tension among the men at the party. The group finds themselves stranded on Umbersea Island with the men getting picked off one by one. Why is someone targeting these ex-soldiers? Verity with Max's assistance sets out to get answers, but she is in for a big surprise. This Side of Murder has a slow pace (glacial) that makes the story seem twice as long (the author tends to be elaborate on tiny details). The same details are rehashed throughout the book. Too much time is devoted to Verity contemplating the case (analyzing, thinking) and talking about it with others. There is little actual investigation. The pace picks up in the last 12% of the book. Verity was lackluster. She misses her husband (understandably), but she is flirting with Max at the party. I did tire of the many mentions of Sidney. She had potential to be dynamic (charismatic), but it was not realized (had potential to be similar to Miss Phryne Fisher). The mystery was slightly complicated, but the culprits were not hard to discern. The “twist” was expected. I am giving This Side of Murder 3 out of 5 stars. Ms. Huber did a great job at capturing the time period as well as what people were thinking and feeling after the war. People had a hard time after World War I, dealing with the loss of life (loneliness) and women were finding themselves at a loss after all the action (work). Women were allowed to take on new roles during the war and men expected them to go back to them (home, cooking, cleaning, having children) after the war. The descriptions about ciphers (prevalent throughout the book), though, will have some readers screaming with frustration and boredom (it was interesting, but tedious at the same time). I hope Ms. Huber will up her game in the next A Verity Kent Mystery.
Enjoyed this story as much as the Lady Darby series - looking forward to sequels!
A smart, emotional look at the time following WW1...plus a superb mystery with believable, likeable characters.
Another amazing book. I am hooked, looking forward to more .
This book is a mixture of an interesting time period, the perfect setting for a mystery, full of surprises, and good historical fiction! I love the main character, Verity. This is a great first book of a series that I hope continues for a while!
This book is the quintessential mystery. It is interesting, exciting, gripping, and filled with interesting characters. The descriptions of the emotional turmoil of World War I and its aftermath on the soldiers and civilian are so strong that you feel every emotion – just as if you were there. This author’s descriptions of the heroine’s grief over the death of her husband make you feel as if it were your loss, your pain. I just can’t say enough good things about the quality of writing and the depth of the emotions in this story. I almost didn’t request it because it is for a later time period than I usually enjoy, but since I love Huber’s Lady Darby series, I thought I’d give this one a try. I am so very glad I did! Be sure you have a clear schedule before you start reading because you won’t be able to put it down once you start reading! Verity married at 18 just as her husband was to go off to war. They never had that time of living together that made the deep memories – the kind where you miss his toothbrush being beside yours or his razor on the sink. Their brief time together was during his short leaves when he came home from the front. They were hurried and intense – and not nearly long enough. Then, a German soldier’s bullet took his life. Verity’s grief was so intense, so painful that she tried to drown it in alcohol and frenetic, frenzied activities such as dancing. Sidney had been dead for fifteen very long, very difficult months when she received an invitation to a house party to celebrate the engagement of one of Sidney’s life-long friends. She declines the invitation until she receives a letter that says the sender has information about Sidney being a traitor. While she knows that Sidney had been very troubled on his last few trips home, she couldn’t believe he would be a traitor – but she had to know for sure. So, she accepted the invitation and headed to the house party on a private island with about a dozen other people. Each person had ties to Sidney or his service regiment and she had to figure out who sent the letter and find out what they know. On the way to the ferry to take her to the island, she runs into (almost literally) Max Westfield, the Earl of Ryde. She feels an attraction to him that she hasn’t felt in over fifteen months. But, can she trust him? Is he the one who sent the letter? As she comes to know him better, she really wants to trust him, but he and his family are in a position that he could have easily been the traitor. As the party continues, the attraction grows. Something about the party and the assembled guests doesn’t feel right to Verity. Then, the first death occurs. Jimmy Tufton was a cynic who had lost an arm in the war – and it was said that he deliberately tried to get himself killed. When he was found hanging, many thought he had committed suicide, but Verity and Max were pretty sure that wasn’t the case. Then, later the second death occurs – and that one definitely isn’t a suicide because there is a very plainly visible bullet wound in his chest. Charlie Montague was a very young man who seemed shell-shocked – and riddled with guilt. Who would be next? There is a massive storm raging and the telephone wires have been cut, so there is no way to contact the outside world nor to escape. They are trapped on an island with at least one murderer. See the rest of this review at: https://flippinpages.blog/2017/09/20/this-side-of-murder-by-anna-lee-huber/
This Side of Murder is the first book in the Verity Kent Mystery series. This is the second historical mystery series from Anna Lee Huber. It is as gripping as her Lady Darby series and provides the reader with a well-plotted story and a very interesting cast of characters that you will begin to understand the terrible mess of lives that war causes. Verity Kent has been widowed just a few years when she receives in the post an invitation to the engagement party of Walter Ponsonby and his fiancee, Nelly. What makes her decide to attend is a letter that she receives that claims the writer knows what Verity did during the war and knows the secrets that she has. On the way to the Ponsonby’s she narrowly misses running into another guest, Max Westfield, who also had served with her husbands unit and Verity will soon find out that all of the men in attendance had served in Sidney’s unit. Shortly after arriving on Poole Island being shown her room, she finds a book that she had given her husband Sidney. Hidden within the book is a note that questions Sidney’s loyalty and a cryptic message. As everyone is getting to know one another, she senses bitterness between quite a few of the men. Soon one of the men is found hung, apparently a suicide, but Verity and Max aren’t so sure. Then a second body is found and Verity knows it is time to really get to work deciphering the message she found in the book before any more deaths occur. But she soon begins to wonder just who she can trust when a storm knocks out electricity to the island This was a very exciting beginning to a very enjoyable new series. It was one that kept me guessing to the end. I will be looking forward to the next book to find out what Verity’s next adventure might be.
This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber is the first in a new historical mystery series by this author. I've never read her books before but this one convinced me that I've been missing some good reading. Her descriptive narrative had me feeling as if I was there with Verity Kent. The setting is post WWI England and Verity Kent is a widow as a result of the war. She worked for the Secret Service during the war and is aware of what many of the battle hardened soldiers saw during the war. She's a strong and independent woman for the times and determined to discover if her husband had been a traitor. The smoothly paced plot was filled with twists and red herrings as Verity is surrounded by questionable companions while isolated at a castle on an island. I was completely shocked by the reveal and loved the way that Verity fought for herself. Suspense, murder, and well developed characters that were intriguing and complex. I will definitely be watching for the next one in this series. I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Kensington Publishing via NetGalley. All of the above opinions are my own.