The Governess

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A great Kindle find for me has been three mysteries by Evelyn Hervey (aka H R F Keating) written in the mid eighties, but set in Victorian times and involving an intelligent young governess and the (murderous!) situations in which she gets entangled. In order they are, The Governess, The Man of Gold and Into the Valley of Death.

The first, The Governess (how could I resist that title!) has elements that remind me of the golden age of the cosy mystery. Light as these mysteries are, Harriet Unwin is a well-drawn character and there’s lots to enjoy here: nice period details with good plotting and characterization and a moral heroine you can really root for. The murderer-to-be is unmasked early on, but what’s interesting here is the motive. There’s a delightful plot revolving around missing sugar mice (daily treats for her charge) that makes you admire Miss Unwin’s resolve and want to rush out and buy one at Fortnum’s. At one point, Hervey describes a Victorian mistress, and it paints a picture in words as vivid as William Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience. Only this woman’s conscience is past being awoken, it’s the practicalities of her life (and it’s an extravagant one at that) which motivate her.

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This is a cosy not unlike Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver mysteries if set much earlier and, unlike the retired Miss Silver, Miss Unwin is struggling to secure her position as a lady and a governess and fears it might be all too easy to fall back into poverty for one who has improved her position in society. She’s no private detective as yet, but already old friends rely on her intelligence and determination to help Justice take its course. There’s not the romance elements so omnipresent in the Miss Silvers, and Hervey’s Victorian coppers, whilst nowhere near as helpful as Miss Silver’s, are particularly fascinating. Once I’ve finished the third one in this series, I can’t wait to try his much respected and well-loved Inspector Ghote series, especially as Penguin has released four titles for Kindle.

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