The murine market is more than crowded these days, but that didn’t keep Richard Peck from bringing something new to the table. In a weird Downton Abbey
meets Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers
meets gentrified mice sort of way, Peck’s newest book, Secrets at Sea
, fits nicely into the mousasphere while riffing on our current fascination with English aristocrats.
Sisters Helena, Louise, and Beatrice, and their younger brother Lamont, travel across the Atlantic by ocean liner (even though mice hate water!) because, as downstairs Cranstons, their fates are intertwined with that of their family’s. Their human family, that is. As the human Cranstons have decided to try England in order to Give Olive Her Chance (alas, only three eligible titled men on board!), this voyage also turns out to be the sisters’ chance to find their futures as well. (Indeed, dynasties have been decided on such voyages.)
While Helena is not as cold or haughty as Lady Mary, she, too, is the eldest of three sisters and therefore, quite bossy and a worrier. However, instead of entails and prospects, Helena’s concerns are cats, water, and how she will keep her family together.
Louise prefers the company of her human-Olive’s pretty younger sister Camilla Cranston-over her actual family, simple-minded Beatrice is smitten by Nigel the steward, and young Lamont idolizes Nigel right down to ‘is Lundunner accent to the point of joining with the crew. Even though mice hate water, as you know.
Throw in a collection of significant looks (usually of disapproval, but Beatrice’s judicious appearance takes the cake at the Royal Reception), an imperative old Duchess who might as well be Maggie Smith in mouse form, and the choice between working class Nigel of the handsome whiskers and Lord Peter, Mouse Equerry of the aristocratic ears, and you start to see the similarities. Plus, Peck employs the best-laid puns of mice and cats in Helena’s pitch-perfect narrative…so put that in your pipe and smoke it, Downton! As for the actual story, like Downton, Secrets at Sea is not about plot so much as it’s about wit and charm and deliciously superfluous details that make for transporting drama.