Anna Lee Huber thought for many years she wanted to be a singer. A native of Hicksville, Ohio, she grew up dreaming rock star dreams, and in college she majored in music and psychology. It wasn’t until years later that she rediscovered one of her first loves – writing – and good thing she did, because now Huber, who resides in Fort Wayne with her husband and daughter, can add “best-selling author” to her already impressive list of accomplishments.Huber is the author of the Lady Darby mysteries, a four-book strong series set in 19th century Edinburgh. The books – The Anatomist’s Wife, Mortal Arts, A Grave Matter and the latest, A Study in Death, which hit shelves July 7 – follow the adventures of Lady Kiera Darby, a talented portrait painter turned reluctant homicide investigator whose short-lived and unhappy marriage to an anatomist makes her a much sought-after crime scene expert.
Huber decided to write the Lady Darby series partially to please herself. A fan of historical fiction, she wanted to immerse her readers in a world different from their own.
“All the elements in my book are the kinds of things I gravitate toward as a reader,” she said in a recent phone interview. “I love history and romance. They say ‘write what you love.’ These are things I love, they’re the things that get my imagination going.”
She also wanted to create the kind of character she would love to follow. Unlike the female protagonists of many mystery stories, Kiera Darby is not a social darling. Instead, she is shy and retiring, and it’s her expertise, not her infectious charm, that makes her an essential part of the investigations that form the backbone of the books.
“There are so many mysteries out there about female detectives whose charm is what sets them apart. Those are great,” Huber said, “but I wanted to do something different. Lady Darby is awkward in society, she’s shy and retiring and doesn’t enjoy the spotlight, but her skills make her so valuable.”
Choosing the setting and time period that would prove the perfect backdrop for Lady Darby’s life required a bit more research, another passion of Huber’s. Knowing that she wanted Lady Darby to be a portrait artist, she started digging into the history of the discipline of anatomy and came across material on the Burke and Hare Trial. The case, which scandalized 1820s Scotland, concerned two Irishmen – William Burke and William Hare – who murdered men on the streets of Edinburgh for the purpose of selling the cadavers to Dr. Robert Knox, a renowned anatomy lecturer.
“The time period was a no-brainer,” Huber said. “There was a lot of political turmoil, and just a couple years after the trial a number of reform acts were passed, including the Anatomy Act which changed the way medical schools dealt cadavers obtained for research purposes. The early 1830s inhabits this neat little cusp in history, after the crazy body-snatching period and before the reform.”
Huber clearly did her homework before she sat down to write her first Lady Darby mystery, but what she couldn’t have prepared for was the critical and popular reception of her work. The Anatomist’s Wife made her a nationally best-selling writer and the three Lady Darby books that followed solidified her reputation as a mystery writer to watch. And, of course, read.
“I feel really, blessed,” she said of her success. “It’s a dream come true excitement kind of feeling.”
Huber’s dreams have changed a bit since she was a young girl growing up in Hicksville with four brothers and a sister and fantasizing about life as a pop star or even a celebrated soprano. But even back then, she was an avid reader and reading fed her love of writing.
“At one point I thought I should try writing stories of my own,” she said. “I was always making them up in my head, so it was a natural progression to start writing them down. I loved creating my own worlds. I even made up my own Nancy Drew-type series.”
Only time will tell whether Lady Kiera Darby joins Nancy Drew in the pantheon of female detectives that have become household names, but in the meantime Huber is hard at work writing the next part of Darby’s story. Over the course of the four-book series, Kiera Darby and a fellow investigator, Sebastian Gage, have fallen deeply in love and are now engaged. A novella, entitled A Pressing Engagement, is slated to come out May 17, and the fifth full book, As Death Draws Near, should hit shelves next July.
Huber’s goal as a writer is to entertain, and she also wants her readers to identify with her characters, to find them life-like and relatable. In particular, she hopes Lady Darby’s story of triumph over adversity – Kiera’s husband, the anatomist, was an abusive brute – will strike a chord.
“Everyone has their own darkness, their own shadows to move past,” Huber said. “Lady Darby’s story is a journey from a period of darkness to one of strength and happiness. I hope the books give other people the encouragement to do the same thing.”
The life of a writer is not an easy one; rejection and poverty and periods of darkness and shadows are all part of a writer’s life. Huber’s advice to aspiring writers is simple: read a lot and keep writing.
“Read what you want to write. Examine how they’re doing it, discover the tricks of the trade, but really just keep writing. The best way to write is to write and write and write and write. Find that voice that is uniquely yours and use it.”