Mortal Arts by Anna Lee Huber

mortal_artsBy A. J. Colucci

Anna Lee Huber is the author of the award-winning Lady Darby historical mystery series. Her debut, THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE, has been nominated for numerous awards, including two 2013 RITA® Awards and a 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award. Her second novel, MORTAL ARTS, releases September 3rd. Anna was born and raised in a small town in Ohio, and graduated from Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN with a degree in music and a minor in psychology. She currently lives in Indiana, and enjoys reading, singing, traveling and spending time with her family.

MORTAL ARTS takes place in Scotland, 1830. Lady Kiera Darby is no stranger to intrigue—in fact, it seems to follow wherever she goes. After her foray into murder investigation, Kiera must journey to Edinburgh with her family so that her pregnant sister can be close to proper medical care. But the city is full of many things Kiera isn’t quite ready to face: the society ladies keen on judging her, her fellow investigator-and romantic entanglement – Sebastian Gage, and ultimately, another deadly mystery.

Kiera’s old friend Michael Dalmay is about to be married, but the arrival of his older brother-and Kiera’s childhood art tutor-William, has thrown everything into chaos. For ten years Will has been missing, committed to an insane asylum by his own father. Kiera is sympathetic to her mentor’s plight, especially when rumors swirl about a local girl gone missing. Now Kiera must once again employ her knowledge of the macabre and join forces with Gage in order to prove the innocence of a beloved family friend-and save the marriage of another…

“Huber’s protagonist is complex and likable and the well-plotted mystery is filled with fascinating secondary characters. . . You’ll be engaged right to the end.”

—RT BOOK REVIEWS

“Huber’s debut . . . reads like a cross between a gothic novel and a mystery with a decidedly unusual heroine.”

—KIRKUS REVIEWS

In the following interview, Anna shares some insight about her upcoming book and writing process:

Your first novel, THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE, received some great reviews.  What can you tell us about MORTAL ARTS, the second book in the series?

MORTAL ARTS takes up two months after the ending of THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE, and continues Kiera, Lady Darby’s journey, as well as her relationship with gentleman inquiry agent, Sebastian Gage.It is an intensely emotional story, and deals with some weighty issues, like the treatment of the insane in lunatic asylums and the battle fatigue of war veterans.

Kiera’s old childhood friend Michael Dalmay has just become engaged, but there are some problems, namely that of his old brother, William. William acted as Kiera’s art tutor one summer, just before he disappeared for nearly a decade. When it is revealed that he was committed to an insane asylum by his own father, suspicions immediately turn to him when they learn that a local girl has gone missing. Having faced unjust accusations herself, Kiera is sympathetic to his plight, and decides to investigate. She must once again employ her knowledge of anatomy and join forces with Gage in order to prove William’s innocence, and save Michael’s engagement.

For some authors, writing book number two can be an intimidating experience, especially when the first one is successful. How hard was it for you the second time around?

Writing MORTAL ARTS was certainly a challenge, to say the least. It was my first attempt at writing a sequel, as well as the first novel I’d written under a publisher’s deadline, both of which added pressure. Not to mention the “imposter syndrome” I felt. Many of my author friends have admitted to battling this as well, particularly with their second novels. There’s this fear, irrational as it may be, that you fooled everyone the first time around. That you truly can’t write. And now you’ll be found out. I fought those demons hard.

I also chose to write about a subject matter that I knew would be incredibly tricky. I can’t tell you how many times I asked myself why I had chosen such a difficult topic. But I knew the answer. I wanted to challenge myself. To take my series in a different direction than what was traditional or expected. And I knew that I needed to be willing to go to a dark place in order to take my characters, and ultimately my readers, on the most impactful journey.

I got hooked on mysteries reading Encyclopedia Brown books as a kid. Do you remember being bitten at an early age?

Most definitely. I was always drawn to stories with some element of mystery. For instance, THE BERENSTAIN BEARS AND THE SPOOKY OLD TREE—not what you traditionally think of as a mystery, but as a young child, my siblings and I wore that book out reading it over and over and then reenacting it. “One with a light, one with a stick, one with a rope.”

As a pre-teen I gobbled up Nancy Drew mysteries by the handful, borrowing them from friends and the library, and purchasing new titles when I had the money. I still have my collection of Nancy Drew titles, and to this day my favorite is THE BLUEBEARD ROOM—possibly because it was the first I purchased, but also because it’s set in mysterious Cornwall, England.

Readers have responded so favorably to your two main characters. What is it about the relationship between Gage and Kiera that works so well?

I think it’s because in so many ways they are polar opposites, but at their very core they are searching for the same things, and I think they both sense that it one another. There is something in the other that meets a need in them that they didn’t even know they had. Because of their pasts, this is difficult for them to accept, and yet those feelings are there, which makes for some interesting conflict while they struggle to work as a team to find the answers to their investigations. I think readers also enjoy the humor that naturally develops out of their differences, and their ability to continually surprise one another.

How did you capture the setting of the Scottish Highlands in the 1830s so vividly?

It certainly helped me to visit the Highlands on my trip to the UK in 2010, just to get an overall feel for the location. But I also strongly believe the most important thing about setting is the way it affects your characters, what it tells us about them. Two people can visit the same place at the same time, and each of them could describe it in completely dissimilar ways, because it touches them differently. I absolutely fell in love with the Highlands—with its wildness and melancholy and mystery. I can only describe it as a feeling of coming home, as if my soul knew that land even if my mind didn’t. However, for my husband it was just another pretty, interesting place.

Kiera feels that same love for it, and yet she senses its hidden danger as well. The isolation.The uncertainty. That aspect hasn’t completely left it even though it’s easier to travel from place to place than it was in 1830.

I imagine researching anatomy could be a gruesome process; what was that like?

Much of my research has been done reading books, trying to figure out just what a great anatomist like Sir Anthony Darby, Kiera’s late husband, would have known, and what he could have passed on in knowledge to his wife. This is not always an easy call to make, so I often have to rely on reason and logic. I was also fortunate enough to visit the Surgeons’ Hall Museums at The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. They have fascinating exhibits, many applicable to the era I write in.

In general, I think that modern readers are far more desensitized to the gruesomeness. After watching TV series like BONES and CSI and any of the dozen more crime shows that feature dead bodies and autopsies, it’s not as easy to be shocked. I have to remember to put myself in the shoes of an early-nineteenth-century sheltered lady, who before her husband’s enforced tutelage had not been exposed to anything remotely so grisly. For me the trick is always transposing the knowledge I hold into the mind and viewpoint of Kiera, my 1830’s upper-class heroine.

Do you recommend reading the first book in the series,THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE, or can this book be read on its own without confusing the reader?

I think MORTAL ARTS can certainly be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone without any confusion, though I do think the reader will miss some of the depth and richness of the journey if they are not familiar with the events in THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE. Each book’s character development builds on the one before it, so that in the midst of these mysteries, we’re also witnessing Kiera and Gage’s growth, separately and as a couple.

What can we expect from book three in the series and when will that be out?

A GRAVE MATTER, Lady Darby Book 3 is scheduled to be released in July 2014. It takes up the story a few months after the events of MORTAL ARTS, on the eve of Hogmanay. When an old grave in the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey is disturbed and the caretaker murdered, Kiera and Gage are asked to investigate. Is this an isolated incident, or part of a larger, more sinister plot that stretches across Scotland?

 *****

anna_lee_huberAnna Lee Huber is the author of the award-winning Lady Darby historical mystery series. Her debut, THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE, has been nominated for numerous awards, including two 2013 RITA® Awards and a 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award. Her second novel, MORTAL ARTS, releases September 3rd. She was born and raised in a small town in Ohio, and graduated from Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN with a degree in music and a minor in psychology. She currently lives in Indiana, and enjoys reading, singing, traveling and spending time with her family.

To learn more about Anna Lee Huber, please visit her website.

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