#BookReview The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett @QuercusBooks

Harriet Fleet Blog Tour

I’m delighted to share my review of The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett on the final day of the blog tour. My thanks to Katya at Quercus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my proof copy.

The Deception of Harriet FleetAbout the Book

1871. An age of discovery and progress. But for the Wainwright family, residents of the gloomy Teesbank Hall in County Durham the secrets of the past continue to overshadow their lives.

Harriet would not have taken the job of governess in such a remote place unless she wanted to hide from something or someone. Her charge is Eleanor, the daughter of the house, a fiercely bright eighteen-year-old, tortured by demons and feared by relations and staff alike. But it soon becomes apparent that Harriet is not there to teach Eleanor, but rather to monitor her erratic and dangerous behaviour – to spy on her.

Worn down by Eleanor’s unpredictable hostility, Harriet soon finds herself embroiled in Eleanor’s obsession – the Wainwright’s dark, tragic history. As family secrets are unearthed, Harriet’s own begin to haunt her and she becomes convinced that ghosts from the past are determined to reveal her shameful story. For Harriet, like Eleanor, is plagued by deception and untruths.

Format: Hardcover (368 pages)  Publisher: Quercus
Publication date: 1st April 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The publishers describe The Deception of Harriet Fleet as ‘dark and brimming with suspense’ and ‘an atmospheric Victorian chiller set in brooding County Durham’. It certainly has all the elements of a Gothic mystery: a remote house – Teesbank Hall – that’s chilly in more than one sense of the word; subjects that can’t be talked about; household members who rarely venture outside the house and don’t welcome visitors; locked attic rooms; and footsteps in the night. It was also the scene of a tragedy that means the local villagers give it a wide berth, even after twenty years.

And there’s Eleanor, Harriet’s pupil, who is treated like a prisoner for reasons no-one is particularly keen to explain in any detail, referring simply to ‘a weakness of the mind’ and ‘qualities that must be…suppressed’. No wonder that before long, Harriet begins to believe she’s been employed more as gaoler than a governess.  Eleanor’s only ally within the family seems to be her brother, Henry, to whom Harriet takes an instant dislike. However, as we learned from Pride and Prejudice, first impressions can be deceptive.

Gradually the initially chilly relationship between Eleanor and Harriet starts to thaw, especially as Harriet starts to see parallels between her own situation and Eleanor’s, constrained in their life choices by their gender.  In addition, as Harriet learns more about the family’s history, her curiosity leads her to make what will turn out to be a dangerous bargain with Eleanor.

From early on in the book, by her own admission, the reader knows Harriet is guilty of betrayal, theft and deception. Therefore, although Harriet describes Teesbank Hall as having ‘something grim and sinister’ about it, she also thinks of it as ‘a hiding place’ and, later, even as a sanctuary. I think it becomes fairly obvious what she’s fleeing from but I believe even the most observant reader will still find there are some surprises in store.

The blurb refers to the period in which the book is set as ‘an age of discovery and progress’.  However, as the book explores, at the fringes of these developments were more questionable theories such as a belief in phrenology. Even less enlightened was the approach to mental health issues, especially in women, with a diagnosis of ‘hysteria’ commonplace and frequently linked with reproduction, menstruation or viewed as a sign of ‘unnatural sexual urges’.

As the story reaches it’s dramatic conclusion, with echoes of Jane Eyre and Rebecca, Harriet has need to cling to her personal mantra more than ever: “I will not let circumstances destroy me. I will survive this. Everything will pass”.  Perhaps, after all, what seemed hopeless may not be entirely lost.

From its dramatic prologue to the book’s epilogue entitled ‘Aftermath’, The Deception of Harriet Fleet is an absorbing story of family secrets, betrayal, grief, jealousy and a desire for vengeance.

In three words: Atmospheric, dramatic, immersive

Try something similar: The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby

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Helen ScarlettAbout the Author

Helen Scarlett is a writer and English teacher based in the north east of England. Her debut historical novel, The Deception of Harriet Fleet, is a chilling take on nineteenth-century classics such as Jane Eyre seen through modern eyes. It is set in County Durham, close to where Helen lives with her husband and two daughters.

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#BookReview The Drowned City (Daniel Pursglove 1) by K. J. Maitland @headlinepg

The Drowned CityAbout the Book

1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.

Format: Hardcover (448 pages)  Publisher: Headline
Publication date: 1st April 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The author has created an interesting character in Daniel Pursglove. I liked the way small details about his often troubled past were dropped in now and again, laying the groundwork for future books. I also liked that the book was set in Bristol – the ‘drowned city’ of the title – not only because it made a change from the oft-used setting of London but also because it made sense from the point of view of the plot.

The writing was of the quality I’ve come to expect from other books I’ve read by the author, most recently A Gathering of Ghosts. Some episodes that particularly stood out were the dramatic prologue, a scene in which a Protestant mob attacks the house of a cordwainer and his family, and the New Year’s Eve masque.

Like any good hero, Daniel has some narrow escapes from those out to stop him achieving his mission.  This includes an adversary from his younger days. However, he always miraculously manages to turn up safely in his bed at his lodgings in the Salt Cat tavern. He also acquires a useful helper along the way whose knowledge of the city and ability to pass unnoticed aids Daniel’s intelligence gathering efforts as he seeks to carry out his mission but also determine if there is any connection between it and a series of murders.

No historical novel set in the period is complete without an appearance by one of the Cecil family; in this case it’s Robert Cecil. I actually felt some sympathy for him having to deal with the petulant and easily influenced King James I the author presents in the book. Although, with the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot still within recent memory, perhaps the King can be forgiven for imagining assassins at every turn and being concerned that one of the conspirators may still be at large. (I confess that until I read the historical notes at the end of the book I hadn’t realised Spero Pettingar was a real historical figure. For much of the book, I was convinced his name was an anagram!) And there are still adherents of Catholicism to be dealt with as well as the Jacobean equivalent of fake news, spread via illicitly printed pamphlets or ‘broadsides’. As Cecil warns the King, “Sire, even a superstition, if it takes hold of the imagination of the people, can be as powerful a weapon as any truth.” Indeed.

The Drowned City has all the ingredients to make an absorbing historical thriller although at certain points I found it on the slow side. However, it certainly picked up pace towards the end. As Daniel confides, ‘The art of legerdemain is to make the audience look in the wrong place’. In my case the author didn’t quite manage that when it came to the identity of the culprit whom I’d had my suspicions about for a few chapters, but I found enough to enjoy in The Drowned City to make me look out for future books in the series.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Headline via NetGalley.

In three words: Atmospheric, intriguing, dramatic

Try something similar: The Angel’s Mark by S. W. Perry

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karen maitlandAbout the Author

Karen Maitland (writing as K. J. Maitland) is an historical novelist, lecturer and teacher of Creative Writing, with over twenty books to her name. She grew up in Malta, which inspired her passion for history, and travelled and worked all over the world before settling in the United Kingdom. She has a doctorate in psycholinguistics, and now lives on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon. (Photo/bio credit: Publisher author page)

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