Book Review: A Pretty Deceit by Anna Lee Huber
By Angie BarrySeptember 23, 2020
A Pretty Deceit by Anna Lee Huber is the fourth book in the Verity Kent Mystery series, set in the aftermath of the Great War, where the line between friend and foe may be hard to discern, even for indomitable former Secret Service agent Verity Kent.
The first anniversary of the Armistice is fast approaching. Erstwhile spy Verity Kent and her war hero husband, Sidney, are determined to honor the occasion quietly with a small group of trusted friends. Still recovering from the horrors of the war, neither of them wants to stand in front of flashing lights or give meaningful speeches.
But before they can make good their escape, Verity’s parents beg them to call upon Aunt Ernestine, who has kicked up a ruckus regarding the military’s roughshod treatment of her estate and is demanding compensation from the government. Furthermore, she’s discovered that several valuable art pieces are missing, some replaced by forgeries.
Verity is sure the “stolen” pieces were actually sold off by her uncle prior to his death in an attempt to recoup some of his lost fortune. But she’s willing to humor Ernestine for the sake of familial peace.
Peace, unfortunately, is not on the agenda. Within hours of arriving to investigate Aunt Ernestine’s claims, the body of a servant is found on the grounds. Another servant, a young maid, is missing. And there are rumors of something supernatural afoot.
“Has anyone else seen this… ghost?” I asked skeptically.
Mr. Plank sat back, suddenly sobering. “Not that’ll admit to it.”
I thought of the other veterans I’d met, men like my husband, who struggled to leave the war behind. Men who sometimes saw shades of their fallen comrades when the man walking toward them on the pavement or standing in front of them in the queue resembled them, or when the angle of the sunlight was just right and their eyes were tired from yet another night spent tossing and turning from bad dreams. Had Mr. Green seen things in the west garden? Had he feared it was his mind playing tricks on him—conjuring the friends and fellow soldiers he’d lost?
As Verity and Sidney dig deeper into the strange happenings, they uncover disquieting connections to Lord Ardmore—the Kents’s nemesis and a spider at the center of a vast web of nefarious plots.
Assisted by allies Max and Alec, Verity faces down old nightmares turned present threats, her espionage skills honed during the war once again coming in handy. With her own life on the line, can she unmask a killer and a conspiracy?
The fourth installment in Anna Lee Huber’s Verity Kent series, A Pretty Deceit is, at its heart, a story about trauma. In each book, Huber has sprinkled flashbacks to WWI, but the stories themselves are set firmly in the post-war period of slow rebuilding and even slower healing. The battles and wholesale bloodshed are in the past, yet their presence permeates everything.
And it’s not just veterans struggling in the aftermath. Huber does a phenomenal job shining a spotlight on how the war took its toll on noncombatants, too, making us deeply sympathize with these unsung survivors. The wives, mothers, and daughters left at home may not have suffered physically the way the soldiers did, but the psychological and emotional toll was equally devastating.
I couldn’t help but feel empathy for Mrs. Green. Men often dismissed how hard the war had also been for the women. Waiting, wondering, dreading—every hour of every day, for four long years. Trying to carry on with life, shouldering the burden of both husband and wife, mother and father, and pretend it all couldn’t end in an instant. Scouring the Rolls of Honor listed in the newspapers every morning for the names of loved ones. Fearing the sight of the messenger boys on their red bicycles pedaling up the drive to deliver a telegram from the War Office. It strained the nerves past endurance.
If you were one of the lucky ones and your husband did come home, this wasn’t an end to it. For once you’d lived with such fear, such horror, for so long, it could never be forgotten. Nor could the emotions and resentments and frustrations that had been festering be brushed aside. In most cases, the returning soldiers and their wives were both the walking wounded…
Deceit is also the most suspenseful and action-packed entry thus far; Huber builds up a serious threat for the heroine until we’re twitching with suspicion. Every passerby and location becomes ominous, the tension culminating in some real humdinger, edge-of-your-seat moments.
This is a mystery series that now stretches beyond mere murder investigations—Huber is steadily crafting a compelling conspiracy to underpin the individual novels. The villainous Ardmore is Moriarty-esque with his scope, intelligence, and power, and his insidious presence allows Huber to steer the characters firmly into spy thriller territory.
Verity herself remains a clever, capable heroine you love to root for. She has a strong, sympathetic voice and a nuanced inner life. Her dynamic with husband Sidney provides plenty of saucy fun and a vibrant emotional heart; their relationship is a passionate one but hardly perfect, thank goodness. Huber navigates a delicate balance for them, giving them enough flaws to be realistic while still delivering moments worthy of a historical romance.
The colorful supporting cast—night club singers and charming spies, wounded cousins and noble lords—and atmospheric English settings are as engaging as the serpentine plot, and the period details and commentary are as sharp as ever.
Huber proves she’s an author with staying power, as each novel further develops a winning bunch of characters and makes us more and more invested in their search for the truth—and personal peace. A Pretty Deceit will more than satisfy established fans and is a riveting introduction for newcomers.