Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Speaking of Independence ... Hattie Davish Turns Sleuth in Victorian Newport, Rhode Island

Anna Loan-Wilsey's third Hattie Davish mystery is in print! A SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT follows A Lack of Temperance and Anything But Civil, and we connect with Hattie in her role as a "social secretary" in the town where so many wealthy American families established "cottages" the size of mansions, and mansions the size of housing developments. Hattie wears her role in town with independence yet some unease: She's accustomed to being treated with appreciation and dignity by her employer, but when Sir Arthur abruptly must leave the summer resort, trusting Hattie to complete typing his manuscript and then take some well-deserved vacation (for her first time ever), Sir Arthur's less kindly wife turns the tables on Hattie, shopping her out as an upper-level servant to the extremely wealthy Mrs. Charlotte Mayhew. Scratch the vacation. Forget being held in esteem. Suddenly Hattie's hard-won independent lifestyle is gone, and Lady Phillippa has the power to enforce the change.

"Yes, spoiled," Lady Phillippa asserts of how Hattie has treated Sir Arthur's writing career. She continues, "Why else do you think he hired you back after that fiasco in Arkansas? ... And you're lucky he did too or your reputation would've been sullied by the scandal. And then again in Galena? What kind of ill luck do you have, girl? Obviously, Mrs. Mayhew knows nothing about your dealings with the murders and we're going to keep it that way, right?"

And that's the stick: Lady Phillippa can ruin Hattie's reputation and toss her out if she so chooses, so Hattie takes the new (if demeaning) assignment. But it's not ill luck that brings Hattie into murder investigations: It's her capable intelligence and calm trustworthiness, and soon she's applying her investigative skills on behalf of her new employer, Mrs. Mayhew, with another murder investigation underway.

Loan-Wilsey is a gifted storyteller and careful historian (her background before writing involved being a librarian and information specialist), and in A SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT she provides a rattling good traditional "amateur detective" mystery with a wonderfully authentic set of "women's issues" from the years not so long ago when women couldn't even cast their votes. Softer in tone than the war-era mysteries of Jacqueline Winspear, Loan-Wilsey's series shows the same adept ear for dialogue and dilemma, with a plenty of adventure and an American sense of justice. A very good series to collect and enjoy, especially for summer reading!

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