Ypsilanti Author Darcie Wilde Continues Character Rosalind Thorne’s Detective Work in the Cozy Mystery, “The Secret of the Lady’s Maid”


The cover of Darcie Wilde's novel, "The Secret of the Lady's Maid," is on the left and a photo of author Darcie Wilde wearing a red Fedora hat and red sweater is on the right.

Author photo by Chris Amos.

Rosalind Thorne launches an investigation when Marianna Levitton hires her to find out the cause of her poisoning in the cozy mystery called The Secret of the Lady’s Maid by Darcie Wilde. As the plot unfolds, the attempted murders by arsenic are just the start of problems that expand to include jewel theft and murders. 

This book is the second in the series called “The Useful Woman Mysteries,” which begins with The Secret of the Lost Pearls and features Rosalind, who's the main character in other novels by Wilde.

Wilde is one of several pseudonyms for University of Michigan alum and Ypsilanti-based author Sarah Zettel. Her period novels take place in Regency London, where the haut ton socialize and those in domestic service wait on them. 

Rosalind possesses a keen eye for details that do not line up. Through observing people and delicately asking the right questions, she pieces together the story. As she is talking with Cate, a member of the Levitton family that Rosalind is scrutinizing, Rosalind displays her cleverness and discretion when she asserts: 

“I believe you have acted foolishly and desperately, but I do not believe you are a poisoner.”

“Well, I suppose I must appreciate your confidence in my character,” said Cate dryly. “May I ask why not?”

“Because to commit murder one must believe there is no other option. You had already provided yourself with a means of escape.” Rosalind gestured at the jewelry. “You had no need, or reason, to poison Marianna, or yourself.” 

With one suspect cleared, Rosalind must consider the guilt or innocence of many other Levitton family members—and must add more crimes to her inquiry as they unfold. 

Rosalind not only positions herself as someone who can help “the women of London with their private difficulties” but also must figure out issues of her own. These issues have to do with emotions, which unsettle her and raise questions about her place in society and her work. She finds herself in love with Adam Harkness, an officer of Bow Street, which was London’s early professional police force. The trouble comes from their stations because they are not from the same class. The narrator describes that when Rosalind visits Adam’s family:

…he’d caught her surreptitiously watching his mother, and all her work, especially her constant doings in the kitchen. He’d seen the dismay in her eyes then. Not that a woman should have to do so much, but in understanding that she had no idea how to manage a house, a family, without servants. And although she knew it was merely a matter of how she was raised, rather than a demonstration of worth, it had still stung her and left her with a strong feeling of being an outsider. 

The characters cannot escape the strong associations with class of the era even when their love crosses those boundaries. Adam notices the barrier, too, because “He’d also felt keenly how he was an object of curiosity and not a little disdain. He was also aware that Rosalind’s position was suspect just because she was too near to him.” The bounds of society, including those of gently bred ladies, seemed to be unavoidable at the time. Whether Rosalind can pursue her relationship with Adam as well as continue her assistance to women in London becomes a question she must explore. 

Those who are fans of whodunits or period fiction will all find satisfaction in this series. Wilde/Zettel and I spoke about her writing, the new novel, and what is up next for her.  

Q: What did you study at the University of Michigan, and how did it lead to becoming an author? 
A: When I got to U-M, I already knew I wanted to be an author, but I also knew I had to make a living, so I basically designed my own course. I took all the writing courses I could find: journalism, advertising, TV and radio, etc. I also took a lot of theater and playwriting classes. The result was I learned how to write across a range of formats, and also got a degree that enabled me to get a job as a technical writer so I could support myself while I was working on getting my fiction published. 

Q: You now live in Ypsilanti. What appeals to you about this area as a writer? 
A: Michigan is home for me. I’ve lived here since I was 9. The fact that my husband is on the faculty of the U-M Aerospace Department is, as you might expect, a big reason for staying in the area.

Q: Darcie Wilde is not your only nom de plume. How is Wilde unique from your other aliases? 
A: Darcie Wilde is the name under which I write my historical mysteries. Other names are for other genres—contemporary cozy, paranormal cozy, SF/F, etc.

Q: Your books penned by Darcie Wilde are set in Regency London in the 19th century. What do you enjoy about writing about this era? 
A: The Regency is the start of the modern era for England. It’s a dynamic period of turbulent change and growth—so much more than the sedate country settings of Jane Austen! These books gave me a chance to explore that larger world.

Q: The “Useful Woman Mystery” series is not the only series in which you write about the character Rosalind Thorne. What keeps you coming back to this character? 
A: The Useful Woman mysteries are a direct continuation of the earlier Rosalind Thorne mysteries. Rosalind is an interesting character for me because she’s a woman forging an independent life in a place and time when this was highly unusual, although not as rare as people might think. 

Q: The chapters of The Secret of the Lady’s Maid begin primarily with quotes from Belinda by Maria Edgeworth. How does Belinda relate to The Secret of the Lady’s Maid? Why did you make this stylistic choice to name each chapter and offer an excerpt from another book? 
A: I actually started writing about Rosalind because I had decided to start reading novels written during the Regency that weren’t Jane Austen, and I discovered the concept of the “useful woman” in those other books. This time period was the birth of the modern novel, and there were a lot of books being written by women. Maria Edgeworth was one of Jane Austen’s favorite authors.

Q: The characters are very much enmeshed in the class designations of the time. As Wilde writes, “[Adam] knew full well that Rosalind belonged to a different class from him, and had been raised to far different standards and expectations than he had been.” How has setting your novels in this time period informed how you think about society?  
A: I think writing about the Regency has given me more insight into the origin, and arbitrary nature, of present-day social hierarchies in the U.S. as well as in the U.K. 

Q: Rosalind displays how sharp she is as she untangles the fatal web of the Levitton family. For instance, when she is contemplating how much to reveal about how much she knows, such as the pawnbroker receipts that she found when inspecting a room, the narrator reflects that “Rosalind had met very few people who could react calmly to news that their personal things had been riffled by a stranger.” The receipts represent just one of many things that Rosalind discovers. How do you go about constructing your mystery novels? 
A: I’m a messy writer. For me, a book generally starts with a particular scene—something I’ve read or seen has sparked an idea—and expands outwards. As I learn about the characters, the setting, and the surrounding circumstances, the bones of the story get constructed, and then I’ll flesh it out, and layer in the details. There’s a lot of re-reading and re-writing as part of the process. 

Q: What is on your stack to read this winter? 
A: Goodness. So much! I’m working my way through the books of Simone St. James (I love a gothic!), The Trees by Percival Everett, and Hotel of Secrets by Diana Biller would be top of the list, I think. 

Q: Now that The Secret of the Lady’s Maid is published, what is next for Rosalind and your writing? 
A: Rosalind is about to get pulled into one of the biggest scandals of the 19th century—the secret marriage between King George IV and Maria Fitzherbert. 

As for me, I’m excited to say I’m starting a new series, a gothic suspense/mystery featuring the young Princess Victoria. 

Martha Stuit is a former reporter and current librarian.


Just finished this book yesterday. I did not know the author of one of my all time favorite book series is from the city where I live! Ypsilanti is truly a city of great writers.