The Heartreader’s Secret by Kate McIntyre. ★★★★
The Heartreader’s Secret is the third in Kate McIntyre’s Faraday Files series, a queer fantasy mystery series. I do suggest reading the books in order, so starting with The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. I don’t think I can fully avoid spoilers for the previous two books in this review, so head on over to The Deathsniffer’s Assistant if you’re not familiar with the series (and it’s a great series, so I really do suggest considering it).
Olivia Faraday is only interested in solving murders — other crimes are too boring or petty to be of interest to her. But when her personal friend, the brilliant Emilia Banks, goes missing, Olivia agrees to take on the case, even though it involves a trip back to the countryside manor of her childhood. Of course, Chris Buckley will be going with her as her assistant. To avoid arousing suspicion, they claim to be investigating what appears to be a clear-cut suicide. Only, as they start their investigation, coincidence upon coincidence pile up.
As they investigate, there’s personal conflict aplenty, for both Olivia and Chris. Olivia has an acrimonious relationship with her mother, who is trying to pressure Olivia into taking over the family business. Chris looks forward to seeing his sister and her governess, Miss Rachel Albany. Only, his sister seems to have grown up in the months they’ve been apart and he struggles to relate to her. And while he can’t deny that he’s attracted to Rachel, he can’t stop thinking of William… who he bitterly insulted and hurt at the beginning of the book.
Chris is a mess. A huge mess of fear and panic and self hatred. He’s internalized all this stuff about what society says is proper and normal, and he’s beginning to admit that it might be wrong, but he still struggles to take that knowledge into himself and move on from the expectations of society. Essentially, Chris is in that stage of self coming out where he’s freaking out about not being straight and what society considers “normal.” In the process, he manages to put his foot in it and alienate practically everyone he cares about, except for Olivia, who’s too abrasive herself to really be put off by it.
While I hate what Chris is doing, I can’t hate him for it. I don’t want to get too personal here, but I’ve experienced a lot of those emotions. Thankfully, not to the same extent because I don’t live in a fantasy society with Victorian-esque social mores, but I get the panic and fear of not being “normal.” I’ve mostly gotten over it, am out in most areas of my life, and have realized that “normal” is a pretty ridiculous concept to begin with. Chris hasn’t reached anywhere near the same sort of self acceptance yet, but I think he’s on the path to. He spends much of The Heartreader’s Secret guilty and miserable, but he has some important realizations. His character growth is one of the most compelling aspects of the Faraday files.
But enough about Chris! There’s plenty else to appreciate in The Heartreader’s Secret. For one, you get Olivia’s backstory. I love Olivia so much. A brash, eccentric lady detective with a strange fashion sense and complete disregard for social propriety? *swoon* I’ve loved her since book one, and I continue to love her here. Otherwise, Rosemary is really coming into her own, growing in confidence and abilities.
The mystery itself is intriguing, although I suspected the culprit pretty quickly. However, I still didn’t have much clue as to means or motivation, so the story still had plenty of surprises left in store for me.
There’s only one book left in this series. I both desperately want to read it and want to put it off as long as possible, because what will I do when this series is over?
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.