The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett
Harriet Fleet is desperate. Otherwise, on arrival at Teesbank Hall, discovering none of the locals will set foot on the property and her post of ‘governess’ is instead more of a nursemaid to a seriously troubled young woman, she would have turned right around and left again. But Harriet has no money and nowhere else to go, so she’s stuck. Trapped in a house of dark secrets and unimaginable cruelty, all Harriet can do is her best to be kind to her charge… who despises the very sight of her.
A very gothic Victorian tale, the story really started twenty years earlier, with the horrible murder of a young child, and the far-reaching effects on the whole family. There’s some pretty searing social commentary on the lack of choices afforded to women - of all classes in society - in this era of supposed enlightenment, and some real horrors in the way mental illness was handled, which was truly nothing short of torture.
A bunch of trigger warnings apply, not just for the aforementioned child death, but also sexual assault, coercive control, self-harm and self-mutilation, mental illness and barbaric medical practices. There are hints of the paranormal but nothing concrete, much of it proving to have been the work of human malice.
I guessed early on that the child of the woman convicted of the baby’s murder would come to play a part, because I knew the law wouldn’t allow a pregnant woman to be executed, but was completely wrong about who it actually was.
A bit to my surprise, because it’s not really hinted at in the blurb, there’s a heavy thread of romance here, with an actual happily-ever-after ending for Harriet and her love interest. It’s not quite enough for this to be an actual romantic suspense, but I don’t think romance fans will be displeased either.
A solidly written and engaging read, obviously well researched, it felt very accurate to the period. I’m happy to give it five stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.