Laetitia Rodd

(creator: Kate Saunders)

Kate Saunders
Laetitia Rodd was a "poor childless widow of two and fifty" who saw "sorrow wherever I look". She had been married to an Archdeacon who had died just over two years before we first meet her. She and her husband had loved poetry, particularly the work of Keats, but "now Matt was gone, as thoroughly as if he had never existed" and she was reduced to living "in reduced circumstances" in Hampstead with her landlady Mrs Bentley whom she had come to regard as more of a friend than a servant.

Laetitia is the narrator throughout. She had become "a private detective of the most discretion". Her brother Fred was "one of London's most celebrated criminal barristers" and he found that her "genteel probing and perhaps a modicum of eavesdropping" was really helpful. She has a "poker face" that helps her in her enquiries.

Kate Saunders (1960 - ) is an English writer, actress and journalist who was born in London, where she still lives. She has also been a regular contributor to radio and television. She is the author of numerous books including the Costa Children's Book Award winner, Five Children on the Western Front, published in 2014, that she wrote after the suicide of her 19-year-old son in 2012, an event that really challenged her faith. She had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1994. She is pleased that, although her life has now ground to a very slow pace, she can still write. The Secrets of Wishtide (reviewed below) is her first crime novel.

The Secrets of Wishtide (2015)
The Secrets of Wishtide describes how In the winter of 1850, Laetitia Rodd's brother Frederick, a criminal barrister, introduces her to Sir James Calderstone, a wealthy and powerful industrialist who asks her to investigate the background of Helen Orme, an 'unsuitable' woman his son, Mr Charles, intends to marry - a match he is determined to prevent. In the guise of governess, Laetitia travels to the family seat, Wishtide, deep in the frozen Lincolnshire countryside, where she starts to uncover mysteries and it is not long before a man is found dead outside a tavern.

The story takes us from elite drawing rooms to London's notorious inns and its steaming laundry houses and is claimed to be "Dickensian in its scope and characters". It is certainly a lively and entertaining tale told with a nice sense of humour, as when Laetitia discovers Mr Charles's horse outside Helen Orme's cottage and she comments, "The horse and I looked at each other." And when Sir James's friendly housekeeper had insisted on taking away Laetitia's one smart dress to be pressed, she comments, "This exemplary housekeeper had buffed and polished every blessing thing in the place, including the Governess."

When Laetitia reports back to St James about a guilty secret that she has blackmailed Mrs Orme into revealing, she spares him the details as "the bare facts are somewhat indelicate."
"Oh, I see what you're driving at," said Sir James. "A big pardon - of course as a lady you can't really speak of such matters."
But she goes on to explain to the reader, "in fact I can speak of practically anything without a blush, but it is sometimes useful to hide behind my petticoat."
She is in fact a very down to earth person, quite ready to challenge the limitations placed on women in Victorian society.

It is a violent story and when one of the main characters is murdered, Laetitia admits that she is "clutching at straws because there was nothing else" but then "Providence decided to give me another helping hand," And it all builds up to quite an exciting climax when she boards a paddle steamer to Antwerp and confronts the villain who calls himself "the Prince" and had kidnapped his own little daughter. Laeticia was determined to rescue her - but ends up by having to be rescued herself. Confronted by the police, the villain says, "There must be melodrama, I'm afraid. You leave me with no choice." And he points his gun at his unconscious child - but then he reflects, "On the other hand, it would be better for my immortal soul if I take this journey alone." And Laetitia "said a prayer for his soul." He is far from being just a conventional villain.

In an afterword, the author explains that the plot of the story was directly inspired by her favourite novel, David Copperfield. However, although she well describes the Victorian background, her story lacks the richness and sheer inventiveness of Dickens, but it still makes an enjoyable read - and I look forward to further adventures.

Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar (2019)
Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar gets off to a promising start.
In 1851, private detective Laetitia Rodd (who is now 53 and who tells the story throughout) gets an urgent request for her services. Her neighbour Jacob Welland is a reclusive, rich gentleman dying of consumption, and he begs her to find and pass a message to his brother, who had been missing for fifteen years. Joshua Welland had beena scholar at Oxford, brilliant, eccentric, and desperately poor "but not a lunatic" when he disappeared from the university. Friends claim to have seen him since, in gypsy camps and wandering around the countryside.

Laetitia has clergy friends everywhere, including in the Oxford area, so goes to stay with The Rev Arthur Somers and his wife Rachel. She soon succeeds in getting the message to the missing man, but that is only the start of her troubles because soon afterwards Arthur Somers gets murdered and his wife and young curate are arrested. At first all this makes interesting reading, as are the descriptions of a small and eccentric and notorious high church monastic-type community and of Daniel Arden, a surprisingly ever-generous Unitarian landowner. But the plot, although certainly ingenious, gets more and more convoluted and ever more unlikely as the story progresses. In the end, even Laetitia describes it as a "a tall tale"!

The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden (2021)
The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden is set in 1853. Private detective Laetitia Rodd gets a letter from a retired actor, whose days on the stage were ended by a theatre fire ten years before. His great friend, and the man he rescued from the fire, celebrated actor/manager Thomas Transome, has decided to leave his wife, who now needs assistance in securing a worthy settlement. Though Laetitia reminds us, "I was the widow
of an archdeacon, and dignitaries of the Church did not frequent places of public entertainment", she cannot turn away the woman in need, so she agrees to take the case.

What starts out as a simple matter of negotiation becomes complicated when a body is discovered in the burnt husk of the old theatre, but with the encouragement of her brother Fred who is still "the most celebrated criminal barrister in London", even if he has been engaged to represent the errant husband, she begins uncovering such a a scandalous past that she gets "worried that I could not touch pitch without being defiled". However she is "not the sort to faint or go into hysterics" so does not give up.

She is happy to work with her old ally, Inspector Blackbeard, who is more than ready to involve her in his investigations, and indeed at times he even encourages her to take over the interrogation of suspects. It all seems highly implausible, as is the way that Thomas Transome admits to Laetitia that he is "a complete scoundrel of the deepest dye" and a "thoroughly wicked man". As the plot grows increasingly tortuous, it does not always hold the interest, so this reader at least never felt involved in all the unlikely things that were going on.

There is a moving article by the author (about her grief at losing her son) on the Daily Mail site and a video clip in which she talks about writing for children on You Tube.

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The Secrets of Wishtide
The cover is bright and cheerful, if not very informative.
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