From the Back Cover:
In this spellbinding novel of romantic suspense, written in the tradition of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, the bestselling author of As Death Draws Near plunges readers into a world of secrets and deception hidden amongst the mist.
England 1812. Since the death of her mother and brother, Ella Winterton's life has been consumed by keeping her drunkard father out of trouble and the roof of their crumbling cottage over their heads. But even isolated deep in the Norfolk broads, Ella has never been afraid of the marshes surrounding her home, despite their being riddled with treacherous bogs and local smugglers. Until one night a man masquerading as a Lantern Man—a frightening figure of local legend—waylays her in the marshes near her home, and her world suddenly begins to spiral out of control.
Ella can tell her friends and the local villagers are all hiding something terrible, something they refuse to share, and she can’t help but wonder if it has to do with the Lantern Man and his secret activities in the shadows of the seemingly quiet broads. But when Ella’s father is caught with smuggled brandy by the authorities and levied a crippling fine, she is forced to turn to the stranger for help, despite her distrust and his alarming ability to kiss her senseless.
Now she must unravel a twisted trail of deception and secrets, and uncover once and for all whether the Lantern Man is friend or foe. Or else risk being dragged down into the marshes, like the victims from the myth, and buried in a watery grave.
So many of my friends are fans of Anna Lee Huber's Lady Darby mystery series, which I've not yet had a chance to read, so I jumped at the chance to review the first book in her brand new romantic suspense series centered around Gothic myths and folklore, Secrets in the Mist.
On a dark, foggy night, the kind of night where most people wouldn't dare cross the marshes on foot, Ella Winterton ventures out to take much-needed medicine to her sick friend, skeptical of her old housekeeper's tales of Lantern Men until she spots their floating lights in the mist and comes face-to-face with one. Only he's no specter but a flesh-and-blood man, dark and menacing and delivering a warning to stay out of the marshes. But that's hard for Ella to do, living on the edge of them as she does, and spending so much time traveling back and forth between her humble home and her friend Kate's home, Greenlaws. Kate recovers from her illness, but it soon becomes apparent that she and her brother, Robert, with whom Ella has a complicated past, are keeping secrets, and Ella's refuge from her drunken father and dwindling prospects no longer seems so inviting. After several more run-ins with the handsome Lantern Man and a lecherous revenue man who levies an exorbitant fine for her father's smuggled brandy, Ella has no choice but to take her family's future into her own hands. But rather than turn to Robert for help, she forces the Lantern Man, aka Jack, to help her and stumbles onto an enterprise far more dangerous than she'd imagined. Now, caught in a trap of her own making, Ella must decide how far she's willing to go to protect her father, her friends, and her very life, and whether Jack can be trusted or if he's leading her into danger for his own nefarious purposes.
Secrets in the Mist is a very well-written and incredibly atmospheric romance. Marshy estuaries, hidden waterways tucked among the tall reeds and grasses, a treacherous path between a run-down cottage and a grand manor, a forlorn dock that becomes a clandestine meeting place, and ever-present mist that can hide lovers in a romantic cocoon, hide smugglers from the eyes of the law, or hide things of a far darker nature from unsuspecting travelers. It's also rich in historical detail. In a note on the author's website, she reveals that many aspects of this story were inspired right from the pages of history. Coastal England must have been a very interesting place to live during the war with France.
While I really enjoyed the story, I did find sections of it to be slow-moving and repetitive, and I thought the plot fairly predictable. I had hoped the Lantern Men mystery would play out a bit longer so it could have been a tad spookier; as it is, the cause of the marsh lights Ella sees is revealed early on, so the suspense of the unknown doesn't really reach its fullest potential, although a whole other type of danger presents itself. However, I still couldn't put it down. I had to keep reading to see if my assumptions were correct and to see how everything would come together in the end. I particularly enjoyed the romance. I really felt for Ella and her circumstances, and Jack is sexy and sweet under his gruff facade. The romantic tension between them was very well done.
Secrets in the Mist stands out to me as something unique and memorable in historical romance. It does stay pretty close to the classic Gothic romance formula, but it is set against a rich historical backdrop and incorporates many of the elements that make for a great read--dimensional and intriguing characters, an evocative setting, action, suspense, betrayal, danger, and of course, true love. I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series and will be adding Anna Lee Huber's other series to my reading list.
My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
*This review was originally published to Romantic Historical Reviews.