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A Certain Darkness–could WWI have ended sooner?

A Certain Darkness

by Anna Lee Huber

Lord Ardmore—a good name for an evil person. Although he is not physically present in A Certain Darkness, his influence and machinations pervade the events of this spy novel. Verity Kent and her husband Sidney are a rich and glamorous couple who are both well known in the intelligence circle for undercover work for the British during WWI. Sidney is also a war hero. In this book, they are once more called into service by their country to discover potentially damaging evidence.

In this action packed drama, Verity and Sidney don’t know whom to trust as they try to uncover how a murder occurred on a train and in a jail cell without anyone seeing either crime. Verity is a polyglot, a helpful skill as the couple interacts with French, German, Dutch, and Flemish speakers. One of my favorite scenes involves Verity speaking in their language to someone who is previously unaware that she can understand their conversations with others—rather embarrassing for the speaker.

The plot is complicated because the events that occurred during and after the war are quite complex. Just when I thought I wasn’t enjoying the book because of the intricate historical references, the action and intrigue picked up and I couldn’t wait to read what would happen next.

Both characters suffer from the horrors and stresses of the war, but there are some mental and emotional breakthroughs for both of them in this book. Whereas in the first book I read in the series (#2) I found the couple rather frivolous, I have come to like and respect both of them as I have gotten to know them better. There has also been more character development with each book. If you are interested in history or like spy mysteries, you will enjoy this series including A Certain Darkness. It closes out with a very important hook that will keep me and other readers anxious to read the next book in the series.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Notes: 1. #6 in the Verity Kent Mystery Series. I do not recommend this book as a standalone. There is just too much necessary background provided in the previous books.
2. Clean.
3. One of the themes of this book concerns the ending of WWI. I did an Internet search on this topic and found this is a concern for some historians. In her introduction, Huber lists a recently published nonfiction book on this subject that she used as a resource for her fiction book.

Publication: August 30, 2022—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

Much of intelligence gathering in general was accepting that there were few total victories, few clear choices of right and wrong. Everything was shaded in gray. One had to make judgment calls, constantly wagering possible sacrifices versus gains. Sometimes you got it right and sometimes you got it wrong. But whatever the outcome, you had to swallow the guilt and disgust such decisions and compromises at times wrought.

I recognized what game he was playing, for he’d learned it from the best. After all, Lord Ardmore didn’t simply aim to outwit his opponents, but to corrupt and demoralize them. To turn them against themselves, against their very morals.

“I’d accepted long ago that the war was utterly senseless.” His voice rasped as if being dragged from the depths of his lungs. “That I was simply stuck. Just a little cog in a great monstrous machine that couldn’t be stopped and would one day consume me as well.”

The Healing of Natalie Curtis–destroying a culture by forbidding its music

The Healing of Natalie Curtis

by Jane Kirkpatrick

The Healing of Natalie Curtis is historical fiction based on a period in the life of Natalie Curtis, a classically trained singer and pianist during a time when women in music had few lifetime choices—remain single achieving success as a performer or marry and teach. After suffering psychological trauma which also affected her physically, her brother George, who had been cowboying in the Southwest, invited her to accompany him because living there had done wonders for his health.

Natalie embarked on a developing, many year journey to record the music and dances of many American Indian tribes. She was afraid their voices would be forever lost as the U.S. government had imposed a Code of Offenses forbidding native singing, dancing, and other customs in its desire to assimilate the “savages” into a white culture. If they broke the Code, their food rations were cut and penitentiary was a possibility. Horrified by the treatment of the Indians, she set about to respectfully learn their stories and compile them along with their music in a book. To do this meant she had to gain legal access which she obtained by letters petitioning President Theodore Roosevelt and finally getting personal appointments with him.

Political change was slow and Natalie had roadblocks along the way. Her family wanted her at home, and she needed benefactors to fund her project. She made many friends, both Anglo and Indian along the way. She and her brother spent many nights camping, and she had to learn to ride horses western style. Her wardrobe changed from that of a proper lady in the early 1900’s to outrageous split skirts for riding and plain dresses adorned with native jewelry.

Initially I was puzzled by Natalie’s illness and her abrupt abandonment of the music world for five years, but the causes were revealed as the story progressed. This book is as much about Natalie’s struggle to change attitudes toward the Indians and consequently treatment of them as about the music itself. She threw herself into this project with the same enthusiasm and drive that she had exerted in developing her music career. The book is very factually based except for conversations which had to be imagined but were based on the context of her known travels and meetings. By the time I finished reading The Healing of Natalie Curtis, I had ordered a copy of the book Natalie put together from her research, The Indians’ Book, which was a major resource for author Jane Kirkpatrick. My desire was to see the finished product of almost 600 pages. Wanting to make it clear that the book truly belonged to the Indians, she called herself the editor rather than the author.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes: 1. In keeping with the times, Natalie Curtis, Jane Kirkpatrick, and I have used the designation “Indians” for the indigenous people living in the U.S. The various tribes all had names for themselves in their own languages which often translated as “The People.”
2. The end of the book contains: Suggested Additional Reading, Book Group Questions, and Author’s Notes that address cultural issues and the factual basis for the book.

Publication: September 7, 2021—Revell (Baker Publishing)

Memorable Lines:

This dismissiveness had happened before, mostly with professional men who saw any independent unmarried woman as lacking brains and capable of nothing more than sitting at Daddy’s table and taking nourishment from others.

“What I don’t understand,” Natalie said, “is how the Hopi are punished for practicing their religious customs, and those same songs and dances are advertised to bring people to see them. Burton approves because the railroad wants the business?”

This was what she was called to do, to save these songs and more, to give these good people hope that their way of life would not be lost to distant winds.

PHOTOGRAPHS FROM

THE INDIANS’ BOOK:

Tomboy Bride: One Woman’s Personal Account of Life in the Mining Camps of the West

Tomboy Bride

by Harriet Fish Backus

If you ever thought of memoirs as a boring genre, I encourage you to sample Harriet Fish Backus’ Tomboy Bride. It is anything but boring. “Tomboy” refers to the Tomboy Mine, located above Telluride, Colorado, and “bride” is the author Harriet who moved there in 1906 immediately after her wedding at the age of twenty with her mining engineer husband George Backus. The first half of the book describes the difficulties and adventures inherent in living in an almost impossible to reach area with only the barest necessities. Harriet was a city girl and had a big learning curve in basic survival skills in the remote, dangerous, high altitude mining camp—everything from baking at over 11,500 feet to how to wade in long skirts in the snow to an outhouse located quite a distance from the home.

The second half of the book relates a series of moves to various mines along with changes in mining fortunes. Not every mine was successful, and the country’s economic twists affected the mines as well. Their adventures took the couple to Britannia Beach, British Columbia; Elk City, Idaho; and Leadville, Colorado. They had several children and lived through World War I and the Great Depression. George’s mechanical ingenuity landed him a job in Oakland, California, which he held for 37 years, but Harriet’s fondest memories are not the ones of ease in the city, but of struggles, love, and friendship in the mountains.

Mining was a difficult and dangerous business. This was true even for college educated mining engineers who suffered from the cold, long hours and perils along with the miners. Mortality rates were high because of the distance to health care. Transportation was slow and uncomfortable along the treacherous snow packed mountain trails. Water and coal had to be carried by hand from dropping off points up slippery, snow-covered slopes to their homes by the residents. The only fruits and vegetables available were canned and brought up monthly on burros. Because of the isolation, residents tended to work as a community. As long as Harriet and George were together, they were happy despite, and sometimes perhaps because of, their shared hardships.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Memoir, History

Notes: 1. I recommend the 50th anniversary edition of Tomboy Bride because it includes many photographs that bring the story to life.
2. There is a timeline at the end of the book.
3. This is a great book for a book club to read as it is ripe with topics for discussion. Tomboy Bride includes thought provoking questions at the end of the book which our book club found quite helpful.

Publication: 2019—West Margin Press
First publication—1977

Memorable Lines:

On reaching his destination the rider tied the reins to the pommel of the saddle and turned the horse loose. Regardless of the distance, knowing the trails far better than most riders, the horse quietly and surely returned to the nearest stable, at the Tomboy or in Telluride.

Crash! What sounded like pounds of glass breaking into bits was only an old cigar box filled with nails that had fallen from a shelf. Even the rats laid low that night, at least we did not hear them. My chattering teeth kept time to the rattling of the old stovepipe fastened by wires to the rafters. The denim “carpet” rose and fell like ocean billows and wind crackled the newspaper padding.

…at the end of a month we both felt inwardly the call of the wild. Somehow, after the serenity of our mountains, the city seemed tawdry and confusing.

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