This is a series where relationships are built upon from book to book, and I strongly encourage you to start at the beginning if you haven’t started already. Here’s the lineup until now:
Book 1 – Silent in the Grave
Book 2 – Silent in the Sanctuary
Book 3 – Silent on the Moor
Book 4 – Dark Road to Darjeeling
**** This review has spoilers for earlier books, so if you haven’t read up to book 4, you read it at your own peril ****
The Premise: Back in London after their travels overseas, Lady Julia Grey and Nicolas Brisbane are settling into a new, combined household and a new partnership. This is not without its growing pains – finding new housekeeping staff and a cook that will stay is proving to be difficult, and Brisbane has trouble balancing his protectiveness of Julia with his promise to let her work with him. In fact, Brisbane tries to keep Julia out of his newest case, forcing her to engage in trickery to learn about it. She’s shocked to see her brother Bellmont leave Brisbane’s offices. Julia’s oldest and most conservative sibling is in trouble and has turned to her husband for help. He’s being blackmailed, but it is not a simple blackmailing – if Bellmont’s secret gets out, it could topple the government. Tracking the blackmailer leads Brisbane and Julia into the deadly intrigue surrounding The Spirit Club, where the wealthy consult the dead.
Read an excerpt of The Dark Enquiry here
My Thoughts: The Dark Enquiry starts off with our characters, Julia and Brisbane settling into London. Julia is eager to learn what she can so she can become a productive member of Brisbane’s business, so we find her mixing powders and causing minor explosions in her fervor to become a firearms expert. Plum is moving in, and is engaged in what looks to be a simple case of a missing Emerald necklace for Lord Mortlake. Brisbane looks to be resigned to letting his wife help, and has made the business more high tech with the installation of a telephone and buying Julia some expensive photography equipment. He’s even letting her join Plum on his trip to the Mortlakes. That is until Julia realizes that Brisbane is a little too eager to get her out into the country and away from London, and she schemes to stay and see what Brisbane is up to. This is when she finds her oldest brother, Bellmont visiting her husband.
I felt like the story doesn’t really start until Julia disguises herself and arrives at The Spirit House to aid Brisbane in whatever he’s doing for Bellmont. Then the story goes into real Mystery mode, with a murder and blackmail and Julia and Brisbane having no idea who is behind it. Things become more intense when there are indications that the culprit is aware of the investigation and has designs on Julia in particular.
Unfortunately, for me, this was the weakest Julia Grey mystery in the series. In the past, every mystery has been very personal, with Julia trying to protect either herself or her family with a strength tinged with desperation. In The Dark Enquiry, I didn’t feel the same vested interest in solving the case, even though Julia’s brother Bellmont was directly involved. The threat that Parliament could topple because of Bellmont’s indiscretion was, in my opinion, a far-fetched one, and I didn’t feel like I cared very much if they found out who Bellmont’s blackmailer was. Maybe it was because Julia barely sees Bellmont, and when she does, he acts like a general ass. Maybe I feel this lack of connection because the stable of beloved secondary characters merely make brief, cameo appearances (the most connection we get is with Madam Fleur and with a new character introduced as a Grey relative). Maybe when the story tries to make the threat more immediate (when there’s a implied threat to Julia), it felt like a case of too little, too late. Or maybe, the mystery itself takes it a step too far, and is too ambitious or left-field in its scope.
What I think should have balanced this was the relationship growing pains Brisbane and Julia are going through. This could be why we see little of the secondary characters, but what there is of Julia and Brisbane’s relationship was.. awkward. It starts off well with a clash between the two when Julia discovers her brother is in trouble and Brisbane discovers that Julia has been sneaking around and putting herself in danger. There is some lovely relationship discussion about love and respect and obedience, which looked like it would move these two forward as proper partners. Yet, they both do things after this that suggest that they still don’t understand one another! It felt like the story I was reading the same argument over again, with the same “acceptance” at the end, only for the same argument to come back but from a different angle – now we’re not talking about love, we’re talking about “protectiveness”. I feel like throwing my hands up but I’m cautiously optimistic. I will allow that they are talking and there does seem like some sort of forward momentum because of these talks, but I am sick of the same talk over and over again. It reminds me of I Love Lucy where Lucy keeps asking to be in Ricky’s show. Ricky, just put her in the damn show!
What frustrated me further was that Julia is uncharacteristically idiotic this whole book. I would have liked her to be described as someone doing well in her efforts to help Brisbane instead of someone constantly bungling and getting caught. Things literally explode in her face, and it frustrated me to have a female character that I like becoming a sort of bumbling fluffy-headed woman. Even after discussions about the danger and how Brisbane feels about her, and how she will be honest with him about what she’s doing, she turns around and does the very thing she said she would not do – go investigating on her own without telling him! Wow. WHY?! Was this so that Brisbane could be right about his side of the argument? I really hope that some of these frustrating things I’m running into are in the ARC and not the finished copy. To make matters worse the climax involves a sort of thrown-in-there tragedy and the wrap up glossed over it in a strange way, so the last impression I have of the book was a sense of confusion.
Overall: I ended up putting this down in the same category as most books I have lately – in the good range. I thought it was OK. But writing the review, I find myself more frustrated by it than I thought I was when I read it. I guess I was disappointed in this one because I’ve been extremely impressed by the books before it. This one had a weaker mystery, the relationship drama felt somewhat of a rehash even if it does look like things are progressing, and the characterization of Julia in particular felt off. I really hope Julia and Brisbane find their footing in the the next one.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews (I am in the minority in my reaction to this one!):
Book Harbinger – positive (read this one for a much less frustrated viewpoint on this installment)
Angieville – positive (ditto to the above)
Dear Author – B-