“The Case of the Wandering Scholar: (A Laetitia Rodd Mystery #2)” by Kate Saunders. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019. 371 pages, $17.
Mrs. Rodd is a widow in her 50s who has pursued an unusual career. In 1851, there are social circles that women can traverse, and therefore investigations that Mrs. Rodd is well suited to do. She receives an unusual commission from a wealthy businessman who is dying – he wants to find his brother, whom he has not seen for 15 years. Joshua Welland, an eccentric man and very poor, has disappeared from his college to wander the countryside. Though there have been sightings, no one knows where he stays. Mrs. Rodd uses her search to reconnect with friends from her past, but during the time of her search, a murder is committed. Scotland Yard arrives to investigate, and Mrs. Rodd is reunited with Inspector Blackboard. The Inspector is not interested in her investigation, nor does he believe her hunch that something more sinister is occurring.
Inspector Blackbeard and Mrs. Rodd met in the first novel, on her original case. Luckily, you do not need to have read the first one to read the second. I had not but was able to read this quite well. I do now want to read the first novel, “The Secrets of Wishtide.” The characters are my favorite part of this novel, as they are all delightful. I have a love for historical-type novels, and this is a mystery as well! It is fun, intriguing and more complicated than I originally expected.
Taking place during the 1850s, we have Mrs. Rodd facing the issues of a widow. With a small income, she has moved into a boarding house, has a very small wardrobe of dresses, and must make do with what she is able. As a new private investigator, so to speak, she supplements her income but must deal with the fact that most will look down upon her practicing such a profession as a woman. Her brother actually helps get her cases, as he is a criminal lawyer, and refers clients to her. It is how she comes upon this case, as a matter of fact.
Because of the setting and year in which this story takes place, there are a lot of social graces to work around. I love the Victorian Era setting, as it is one of my favorite time periods. It does in some ways remind you of Sherlock, in terms of her boarding in a house and a few details here or there. However, I think it is fun to see the different sides of society and how they treated women. Mrs. Rodd is able to travel through extra social circles because of her standing as an Archdeacon’s widow. Her previous connections often come in handy, and she is able to use them to her advantage.
Religion does play into the story. Mrs. Rodd stays with a pastor and his wife while investigating. Because it is such a part of her past, and of who she is, scripture and other things are occasionally brought up. It did not bother me, but it does add an interesting element to a murder investigation! Part of the story revolves around a controversial religious house that does not adhere to the norm. There are ethical and moral dilemmas that Mrs. Rodd discusses and wrestles with herself, as well as her own part in some of them. The religious debates are well handled, and I enjoyed the look into Oxford and the Victorian ideals.
It took me quite a while to figure out who might indeed be the bad guy, and even then for a while it took almost the whole rest of the book to puzzle out the why. So far as a mystery goes, this one had quite a few layers. It almost bordered on being too complicated, and I still questioned a few of the pieces of the story at the end. The case at times did seem to be a little overwhelmingly complicated, to the point that it slowed down the plot. This did not happen often. Because of all the layers of the plot, it takes quite a while to weave the entire story. The problem here is that there is so much to go through that occasionally it bogs down the story. Taking out one or two of the side pieces that were weaved in, especially a few of the later ones (such as one or two romantic involvements for others) would have helped pick up the pace, and make for a quicker read. Nevertheless, it all wraps up together well.
Overall, this is just a really fun way to do a mystery/detective story. I enjoyed all the components that brought it together. Most of all, it was a nice break from the chaos of this year! If you like mysteries that include solving puzzles, finding missing people and solving murders, then you will quite enjoy this one. Mrs. Rodd is a strong woman, working in a world that wasn’t very kind to women making their own way. As a widow, she has more freedom than a single woman, or a married woman of that time.
Kate Saunders is an English author, actress and journalist. She has written multiple books for both children and adults. She has won multiple awards, including the Betty Trask Award and the Costa Children’s Book Award and been twice shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.
– Reviewed by Fallon Willoughby, first-year experience instructor, Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College.