This book has been on my radar for a while now. It was on a lot of best of 2008 lists and had positive reviews from bloggers who have tastes similiar to mine, and then Angie of Angieville has been pimping it left, right, and center. When I noticed that the ebook was offered for free (FREE!!) at everyone’s reading I downloaded it immediately. The direct link to the downloads by the way are here — epub, mobipocket.
The Premise: This is the first book in a series set in the Victorian era. The story starts with a party hosted by Lady Julia Grey and her husband Edward, which goes south when Edward collapses on the floor. When Edward dies, it’s not really a shock because of his known family history of heart problems, but Julia’s vision of the world is turned askew by Mr. Nicolas Brisbane, who informs her that he was hired by her husband to investigate threats he was receiving. Mr. Brisbane also tells Julia that Edward was probably murdered. I also have to point out the cracking first line, which every other reviewer has commented on. It just draws you in – read it here in the excerpt.
My Thoughts: This is set in the Victorian era, but it has a modern edge. The story is told from the first person viewpoint of Julia, who comes from an open minded and eccentric family – the Marches. Julia starts off as a bit of a disappointment to her colorful family – all she wants to be is normal, but after her husband’s death, she takes stock of her life and begins to come out of her shell. This is one book where there’s marked growth and change in the main character. The author takes a few liberties with Julia’s character because of her freewheeling family, but it worked for me.
I also liked that around Julia’s investigations, we see a lot of day-to-day interactions between Julia and her staff and between Julia and her family. We catch glimpses into how a household was run in those times, and the ‘rules’ that the nobility abides by, and it’s all very normal and familiar to these characters but for me, it was excellent world building and lovely to read.
I’m not sure you should read this so much for the mystery than for the characters. There are several well rounded side characters such as Julia’s servants (her butler and ladies maid in particular), and members of her family (especially her sister Portia), and then there’s Julia and Nicolas Brisbane. While this has romantic elements and great sexual tension between Julia and Mr. Brisbane, the romance is not at the forefront of the book, and this is one of those series where the relationship evolves slowly over the course of several books. Julia is funny for her nosiness about Brisbane and her adventures in amateur sleuthing. Brisbane, while he is a dark and broody type, has great interactions with Julia, especially when she surprises him. A couple of times, I was laughing out loud at the things Julia did, and Brisbane’s agog response. I was reading this while on vacation and I was in the living room just laughing like a fool while my mother-in-law stared at me like I was crazy.
As for the mystery itself – there are only so many people who it could be, there are not that many characters to choose from, so an early guess is likely to be right, but why they did it and how was more mysterious and ultimately more surprising to me than who did it. There’s also the side mystery of Brisbane himself, which are hinted at when Julia visits him – a strange sudden illness when he’s a healthy man, and his odd interactions with Julia’s laundress.
Overall: I loved this one. It hit me in all the right places and I went on my best of 2009 list. I even made my mom read it (her report – almost done but she peeked at the ending! – tsk. But she asked if I had book 2, muhahaha).
Buy (this book was just reissued in trade PB): Amazon | Powells
Angieville – A very positive review
The Thrillionth Page – “lovely”
Miss Picky’s column — 3 out of 5
Aneca’s World – 3.5 out of 5
Rosario’s Reading Journal – gave it a B-
Reading Adventures – “highly recommended”
The Book Smugglers – Thea gave it an 8, leaning towards 9
Tempting Persephone – positive review
Silent Pretties — Angie points out the gorgeous UK covers for the Julia Grey mysteries. I want them too!
Silent in the Grave website