Last Updated on August 28, 2022
Period dramas and historical fiction are kindred spirits. The new book A Certain Darkness lands on August 30, 2022; set in 1920s England, it’s Anna Lee Huber’s latest installment in her Verity Kent Mystery series.
Because we think you’ll want to read A Certain Darkness, we are giving Willow and Thatch readers a sneak peek at an excerpt from the book, and holding a giveaway of a bundle of all six of the Verity Kent Mysteries, along with a copy of the period drama “Downton Abbey: A New Era” (2022) on DVD. See the end of the page for how to enter the giveaway. As the new book takes place “Downton Abbey”-era post-war England, the book and the film make for excellent companions.
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The 1920s are off to an intriguing start in USA Today bestselling author Anna Lee Huber’s thrilling mystery series featuring former Secret Service agent Verity Kent. For even as a new decade dawns, the shadow of The Great War persists.
Life has turned unsettlingly quiet for former British Intelligence agent Verity Kent and her husband, Sidney. But even that false calm is about to end. As threats remain, the French authorities soon request Sidney’s help with a suspect who claims to have proof of treason—shortly before she is assassinated. And Verity, too, is called to investigate a mystery.
The murder of a Belgian lawyer aboard a train seems at first to be a simple case of revenge. But the victim was connected to British Intelligence, and possessed papers detailing the sinking of a gold-laden German ship during the war.
As Verity and Sidney dig deeper, they discover their cases are intertwined—and a lethal adversary persists. Officially, the Great War may be over, but this is a battle of nerves and wits they cannot afford to lose…
A Certain Darkness by Anna Lee Huber is available HERE
Read the excerpt below, and see the end of the page for details about how to enter the giveaway.
Excerpt: A Certain Darkness: A Verity Kent Mystery by Anna Lee Huber
March 1920 London, England
The club was hopping. Peering through the curtains at the edge of the stage, I had a clear view of the bodies packed together on the dance floor, swaying and jazzing to the driving rhythm of the band playing twenty feet from my place of concealment. The beat of the drums and the piano pounded in my chest, and the throbbing wail of the trumpet and trombone sang in my ears, tempting my toes to tap and my hips to swing. Normally I would have been part of the undulating mass of bodies, steeped in the haze of sweat and perfume, spellbound by the sweet, syncopated sounds. But not tonight. Tonight, I had greater concerns.
Tonight, I had other fish to fry. Namely, fileting a traitor.
I heard my husband’s soft foot tread moments before I felt his hand brush over the silk of my dark gown at my waist. “Goldy says Ryde’s chap is finally in place.” Sidney added a soft grunt. “Albeit a bit windy.”
I fingered the filigree gold pendant dangling from my neck and nodded. I’d expected as much. Our friend Max Westfield, the Earl of Ryde, had said the man he’d convinced to speak with us from the War Office was already uneasy, and our clandestine arrangements to meet him would only have heightened his nerves. Add to that the frenetic mood of the Grafton Galleries nightclub and the crush of patrons in their glad rags either dancing or indulging in a cocktail, and the man must be close to turning tail and running. Fortunately for us, that was all but impossible.
I allowed my gaze to sweep over the assemblage once more, verifying that Crispin and his friend were still holding their positions. Tonight’s crowd had seemed a boon, providing an effective cover for any who might be surveilling either Max or the man from the War Office, but it was now in danger of foiling our entire ploy. It had taken the man much too long to make his way through the throng to the far stage door. There wasn’t a moment to lose.
I nodded to the clarinetist on stage who stamped his foot and tipped his head back and arched his spine to lift his instrument into the air as a warbling trill of notes blared forth. Even with his hearing damaged from his time at the front as an artillery officer, Crispin couldn’t miss that cue. He stumbled backward as if losing his footing, and flailed his arms, spilling several bystanders’ drinks before elbowing his friend in the nose. My eyebrows arched skyward as the friend bent forward, cupping his hands around his face. The men were supposed to be playacting, but from this distance that had certainly looked real. Either their acting abilities were greater than I’d anticipated, or Crispin had gotten carried away.
“Ham,” Sidney scoffed good-naturedly from over my shoulder, making me suspect it was the former, for he knew both men far better than I did.
Crispin’s friend launched out at him with a fist, making Crispin stagger back into several onlookers, before he came back at him. News of the brawl quickly swept through the crowd, drawing eyes and interest. Trusting the distraction would be enough, and Goldy would know the right time to take advantage of it to usher the man from the War Office through the stage door, Sidney and I turned to hurry back through the wing of the stage to Etta’s dressing room.
Etta Lorraine was the most talented jazz singer this side of the Atlantic, as well as a good friend and eager coconspirator. She’d served as a mediator and courier for my ongoing clandestine work for C, the chief of the British Secret Service, more than once.
I rapped on the door before opening it to be engulfed by the scent of flowers from Etta’s admirers filling at least half a dozen vases, and the musk of powder and kohl decorating the vanity’s surface along with a smattering of brushes. It was certainly an improvement over the dank, musty corridor.
She glanced at me in the reflection of the mirror as we entered before continuing to apply her crimson lip salve. “Spring your trap?” “Yes.” I shared a look with Sidney. “Now, let’s hope it proves worth the effort.” Etta rubbed her lips together and then turned her head to the left and then the right, before nodding, apparently satisfied with her appearance. As she should be, for she looked stunning, as always. She tended to favor metallic-colored gowns, and tonight was no exception. The warm copper sequins and fringe seemed to ooze over her frame like melted caramel. Her cinnamon-brown eyes snapped with a fire reflected in the topaz-accented teardrop earrings brushing the tips of her mocha shoulders.
We kissed the air next to each other’s cheeks as she turned to greet me, her Tabac Blond perfume wafting up from her neck. Then she offered her cheek to Sidney, who bussed it lightly. Her eyes dipped to my midnight blue bodice as she leaned her hip against the vanity table. “You don’t normally wear such dark colors, Verity, but I must say, they suit you.” She reached up to tug one of my castle-bobbed curls. “It’s your hair. Makes the red gleam.”
I draped a hand somewhat self-consciously across my chest. “Yes, well, they do come in handy when you need to skulk through dark corridors.” She hadn’t mentioned the unfashionable cut of my neckline, but I felt conscious of it nonetheless, and slightly annoyed by that fact. Most of the current evening and dancing gowns tended to favor a square neckline with thin straps, but the bullet I’d taken in my shoulder some three months past, and the resulting scar, had put paid to any such wardrobe options. I’d been forced to turn to my modiste for help in designing a new evening wardrobe to accommodate my injury and was personally quite pleased with the wider straps and plunging vee neckline. In truth, it was far more flattering to my shapely figure. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t still a trifle uncertain. A position I was unaccustomed to, normally feeling confident about being the most stylish woman in the room.
As if sensing my insecurity, Sidney pressed a hand to the small of my back. Its warmth penetrated through the silk and infused into my backbone, offering me a reassurance I chided myself for craving.
Etta nodded. “You’ve the use of my dressing room as long as you need it.” She looked toward the door. “Is Ryde joining you?”
“No, we thought it best to send him elsewhere,” I replied. “To try to throw some of the hounds off the scent.”
“Do you think it worked?”
I heaved a weary sigh. “At this point, we can only hope.”
Our gazes met and held in commiseration.
There was a light knock on the door, and she straightened. “That’ll be your man. And I believe I need a drink before my next set,” she added over her shoulder as she sashayed toward the door.
“So, I’ll leave you to it.”
“Thank you.” She lifted her hand in acknowledgment and then opened the door. A man whose dark blond hair was coated with copious amounts of Brilliantine nearly tumbled inside, coming to an abrupt stop at the sight of Etta. His eyes widened in uncertainty, but also a bit of awe, while she all but ignored him, pressing her hand to her beau Goldy’s chest as she skirted past him and out into the dark corridor. Goldy nodded at us, letting us know he would be nearby, and then shut the door, all but forcing the other man to take his last stumbling step inside to join us.
I waited to speak, pausing a moment to study the man before me. He was no more than average in build, with pale gray eyes and a weak chin. From the manner in which he tugged at his evening coat and straightened to his full height, it was obvious he was a military man, but judging by the shiftiness of his eyes and the apprehension shimmering in their depths I pegged him for a subordinate staff officer— likely a second lieutenant—or a clerk.
“Lord Ryde said you like birds,” I remarked, beginning the coded exchange Max and I had worked out prior to this meeting in order to verify the informant’s identity.
“Aye,” he replied, before pausing to clear his throat. “Especially pipits.”
His Scottish brogue had surprised me, for I would have expected it to be something Max would have priorly remarked upon. So, in spite of his correct retort, I examined him more carefully as I uttered the second part of the code. “And reptiles.”
“There’s nothin’ like a good cup o’ tea in the mornin’ to set ye right,” he stated, displaying no hesitance at the incongruous nature of the last call and response. It was evident he’d been prepped, which eased my concerns.
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Ryde says you have information for us about the investigation into the explosion that killed Brigadier General Bishop and nine other men.”
An explosion I was intimately familiar with as I’d been injured in it. In the spring of 1918, as the Germans had made their last big push, forcing some stretches of the Allied lines into retreat, I’d been sent to the front with a message warning Bishop he had a traitor among his staff. A traitor who might have even been the intelligence officer attached to his brigade. Soon after I’d delivered the missive, the temporary brigade headquarters Bishop had established near Bailleul, France, had blown up, sending me flying and scrambling my memory. For some time, I’d believed the explosion had been caused by a German shell, for a few minutes later that portion of the front had suffered a bombardment in earnest. However, with the help of a few other key witnesses, I’d recently realized the blast had not been caused by a shell, but a bomb placed within the HQ itself.
The Scot’s eyes darted back and forth between me and Sidney. “No’ so much information as word that they’ve declined to reopen the investigation.”
I stiffened, the anger and frustration I found myself so often struggling to restrain of late bubbling just below the surface of my calm exterior. “Despite the fact that there is now just one witness claiming the explosion was not caused by a bomb, and that witness was also the last person seen exiting the HQ moments before it exploded?” I wasn’t certain how much the man before me actually knew of the inquiry, but I wasn’t about to temper my words by speaking in vague terms when the issue was so important. “They . . . they declined to accept the revised statement o’ one o’ the witnesses.”
“Why?” I snapped.
“They said it was unreliable.” His stare drifted to some spot between me and Sidney. “That because . . . the woman had changed her mind it couldna be trusted.”
To enter the GIVEAWAY: The giveaway opens on August 28, 2022 (now open) and runs through September 12, 2022. Open to US only, age 18 and older. Enter on the pinned post on the Willow and Thatch Facebook page. A randomly drawn winner will be announced on Facebook after the close of the giveaway. (If you don’t have a Facebook account, please email us when the giveaway is live, with a note saying why you’d like to win, or leave a comment below.)
1 Willow and Thatch reader will win a copy of A Certain Darkness and the other five Verity Kent Mysteries by Anna Lee Huber along with “Downton Abbey: A New Era” (2022) on DVD.
Anna Lee Huber is the Daphne award-winning and USA Today bestselling author of the Lady Darby Mysteries and the Verity Kent Mysteries. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in music and minored in psychology. A member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, she currently resides in Indiana with her family.
If you enjoyed this post, wander over to The Period Films List. You’ll especially like the Best Period Dramas: Interwar Era list. Also see our review of the BBC period drama “Restless.”