The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn

The Dark Enquiry
Deanna Raybourn

I don’t know what it is but I was in the mood for a mystery, and the perfect choice was right on my TBR – an ARC copy of The Dark Enquiry picked up at BEA. This is one of my favorite series and I’m happy that I got a chance to meet the author two years running to get a signed copy. One of the highlights of BEA.
 
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 https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2 – Silent in the Sanctuary https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3 – Silent on the Moor https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 4 – Dark Road to Darjeeling  https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
 
**** 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-

Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn

Dark Road to Darjeeling
Deanna Raybourn

This is a review of an eARC I received from the publisher.

Dark Road to Darjeeling
is the fourth book in one of my favorite series. Here are my reviews of the first three books:

Book 1: Silent in the Gravehttps://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: Silent in the Sanctuaryhttps://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: Silent on the Moorhttps://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

 

***** There are minor spoilers for earlier books in this review ****


The Premise: Lady Julia Grey and her now-husband Nicolas Brisbane have been honeymooning for 8 months, when her sister Portia and brother Plum cross paths with them in Cairo. Portia’s former lover Jane has written from India with the news that she’s pregnant and now a widow. She doesn’t explicitly say it, but Portia senses that there is something wrong in her letters and suspects foul play in the death of Jane’s husband Freddie Cavendish. So of course, Julia and Brisbane, Portia and Plum journey to India, to give Jane support during the last few months of her pregnancy and to secretly investigate the possibility of Cavendish’s murder.

Read an excerpt of Dark Road to Darjeeling here

My Thoughts: As with the earlier books, the writing beautifully describes a setting that’s in a different place and time, in this case a valley isolated from the world where Jane now resides in a tea estate: “The Peacocks is the name of the estate, a tea garden on the border of Sikkim, outside of Darjeeling, right up in the foothills of the Himalayas.”

Here, a small English community lives – the Cavendishs who own the plantation (Harry is the late Freddie’s younger brother, and Camellia Cavendish is their aunt and runs the household), the White Rajah (a mysterious older man who lives in a ruined monastery above the valley), the Pennyfeathers (a clergyman, his free-spirited artist wife Cassandra and two children Primrose and Robin), Dr Llewellyn (a grieving man who lost his wife after a tiger attack), and finally Lucy and Emma Phipps, cousins to the Marches (last seen in the second book of the series). Surrounding these are their numerous servants, including twins sisters Lalita, a cook, and Miss Thorne, governess to the Pennyfeather children.

As Julia and the others make acquaintances with those around them, it becomes clear that the mystery of Freddie’s death is going to be a tough one. Almost everyone could have had a reason or the means to have killed him, if in fact he was murdered. Officially he died of an infection after being bitten by a small, usually harmless snake, not something that would typically kill a healthy man, but India is a place where such things happen. In fact, as I kept reading this book, it began to feel like the valley is not kind at all to those who settle there.  One tragedy or another seems to have befallen everyone there, particularly the English.

In the meantime, the honeymoon is over for Brisbane and Julia, and the two are trying to figure out the compromises that make up married life, without being the one who actually makes the compromise! These two are as as in love as ever, but they’re clearly human. Julia wants to be a partner in Brisbane’s investigations, while Brisbane wants his wife to stay away from danger. This is probably the first book where I really thought about the problems in both of their perspectives, and I felt like neither was truly right or wrong. I think before this book, I was with Julia in expecting that she should be able to investigate, but now I see where Brisbane comes from. On the other hand, both characters also do things that probably aren’t best for their marriage when they try to exert their will over the other. Brisbane continues with his mind games to keep Julia out of trouble, while Julia hides things from Brisbane in order to “win” the race to figure out the mystery and prove she’s an equal. Clearly these characters are imperfect and I like that they have a lot of room to grow, but I the previous books didn’t leave me as frustrated with Brisbane and Julia as much as Dark Road to Darjeeling did. It left me with a generally perturbed feeling to uncover their shortcomings the way they were presented here.

Overall: As I’ve come to expect, I liked the book: it has all the Raybourn hallmarks (lovely writing, unique characters, beautiful setting), but I didn’t close the pages with the same feeling of happy satisfaction as the earlier books, so it’s not my favorite of the series. Conflict and the overall tragic events put this volume into a “bittersweet” category. Compared to the earlier books I felt unsettled after reading this one, but I still love and recommend this series, and I am looking forward to what happens next.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
See Michelle Read – positive review
Tempting Persephone – positive review
Monkey Bear Reviews – B- (I’m surprised by how similar I feel to this review – read it after writing mine)
Book Harbinger – positive
Babbling about Books, and More – B

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn

Silent on the Moor
Deanna Raybourn

I’ve been meaning to read this, the third installment of one of my favorite series for a while but I’ve been gated by the fact that there are no mass market paperback copies. More on that side rant later.
Book 1: Silent in the Gravehttps://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: Silent in the Sanctuaryhttps://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

**** Minor spoilers for the earlier books in this review ****

The Premise: In the last book, Brisbane disappears, as usual, leaving Lady Julia Grey again with the sense of unfinished business regarding their relationship, so when her sister Portia is invited to Brisbane’s new home on the northern moors, Julia decides to take matters into her own hands and come along, uninvited or not. Julia doesn’t expect a warm welcome by a man who is clearly hiding something, but she’s surprised to find the previous tenants of Grimsgrave, the Lady Allensby and her two daughters, Ailith and Hilda, still in residence, while Brisbane acts as slippery as ever.

Read an excerpt of Silent on the Moor here

My Thoughts: Julia gets more and more impetuous in each book. I think the first impression she made on me has stayed in my mind (a woman who knows the societal rules of her time and abides by them despite feeling the constraints), so whenever Julia does or says things that are distinctly unladylike, I feel a little surprised. I wasn’t sure how to feel about Julia’s decision to just show up at Brisbane’s house, despite her sister Portia and brother Valerius coming along, because there are members of her family (including her father) who call it what it is – throwing herself at a man who of late has shown an insulting lack of interest.  I did cringe a little, wondering what Brisbane’s reaction would be.

When Julia gets to Grimsgrave, the sparring with Brisbane begins again, and their interactions highlight how much Julia’s character has evolved. Do not fear though – this is the best thing ever. I find their relationship even more delicious because Julia is comfortable with who she is. Brisbane is a dark horse; he manages to stymie Julia even when she thinks she has the upper hand, but Julia isn’t afraid to keep pushing.  I understand her character (it helps that she’s the first person narrator), but Brisbane holds his cards very close to his chest. I know he loves her, but he has strange ideas about honor, relationships, and protecting people. If Julia hadn’t changed into who she is now, I don’t think their relationship would work because she’d be too afraid to break down his barriers. This Julia gives as good as she gets, and I was cheering for her every time she managed to chip his armor.

Every book in this series involves a mystery.  In Silent on the Moor, the biggest mystery is Brisbane himself. He clearly has a past that is tied to Grimsgrave, and Julia learns as much about him as she does about the strange Allensbys. At first, it’s Julia’s nosiness that prompts her questions about the Allensby family. Is there something between the beautiful Ailith and Brisbane? Then there is the question of Redwall Allenby, Ailith’s brother, recently passed. Was there more to his death and his disgrace in Egyptology circles? These are things Julia is curious about, but it’s only when she makes a macabre discovery that the sleuthing begins in earnest. Julia knows that this is the window for her chance at happiness, and if she doesn’t figure out what’s going on, she’ll lose Brisbane forever.  Although the mystery feels somewhat secondary to the relationship troubles, I found it rather satisfying that the focus was where it was. I wanted what Julia does when she goes to Grimsgrave: to settle the thing between her and Brisbane once and for all.

It’s all very atmospheric. The Allenbys sit proud, closed off in their broken down home, remembering glory of generations long past, while the nearby villagers bear them no good will. Julia and her family stumble awkwardly into this situation, not exactly wanted but tolerated nonetheless, while Brisbane stomps in and out, dark and broody as ever. Brisbane perfectly suits the crumbling Grimsgrave and the wild and dangerous moor. I loved the setting, particularly at this time of year, when things get wet and gloomy, and dark clouds hang above.  With Brisbane’s gypsy past and the moor setting, it’s clear that there’s a nod here to Wuthering Heights, but in this case there’s a happier outcome.

Oh man, the ending. The story took it’s time getting there (my trade paperback is 465 pages), but it was well worth reading because the final pages are sigh-worthy.  For those of you who are peekers – just believe me that it ends well and try not to skip ahead.

Overall: This may be my favorite Lady Julia Grey installment yet. Wholly for the ending, although the dramatic setting on the moors, the strange Allenbys and the broody Brisbane aren’t too shabby in making this a lovely story. The mix of romance, mystery and the Victorian setting are perfect. I love this series. So good.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Side rant!
OK, I must say that I’ve been waiting for this book to be published in Mass Market because my copies of the earlier books are MMPBs. But, although this book was published in trade paperback in March, 2009 (as of this post 1 year and 8 months ago), there seems to be no plan to release this book in mass market? What’s up with that?

Other reviews:
See Michelle Readpositive review
Aneca’s World – 4/5
The Good, the Bad, and the Unread – B
Angieville – positive review

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

I liked The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker so much that I made sure to ask about the second book, and Dorchester sent me a copy for review. I also have an extra copy that I’m going to be giving away later.

My review of Strangely Beautiful can be found here: https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpghttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/vox.png

The Premise: This is the second book in the series which begins with white haired and pale skinned orphan Persephone Parker, a strange girl who can talk to ghosts, arriving at Athens Academy and discovering that she’s an integral part to a long awaited Prophecy. The Guard of London, six remarkable people who protect the city from the forces of Darkness, take Persephone into their fold, but after a very brief respite, the war continues. This is the conclusion of the story.

Read an Excerpt of The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker

****** There are MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK from this point on *******

My Thoughts:
As in the previous installment, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker has a lovely but dense writing style. It’s definitely not a book I’d say you could pick up and read cover to cover without stopping. I had to read this book piece by piece. I’d call this a rich chocolate cake: to be enjoyed at a sedate pace with time to digest the material in between. Both books have a very Gothic, theatrical element to it, and when I found out Strangely Beautiful was optioned for a Broadway musical, it made sense – it’s a good fit because the people in the book do make grand gestures and seem larger than life. The exception would probably be Percy, but she has a presence too – with her stark albino coloring and her long white hair.  I could see her dancing across the stage with her dark and broody partner, Professor Alexi Rychman.

The language is very Victorian and embellished, and the best way for me to show that is an excerpt:

“Their kiss was of such fusion that they felt the ground tremble. The slight sound of angels grew into bursting chorus. Rising from the candles and met by an aura of light from their bodies, white flame began to pool, merge and expand into a hazy, egglike form that grew as their kiss sustained.  As it ended, the form burst into a great, bird-shaped sun. The avian form threw open expansive wings, and a wave of heat and deafening music blew…”

There is a lot of set up in the first 100 pages Strangely Beautiful, but while that was okay to me because it was the first book in a series, and the world had to be drawn and it’s characters introduced. In Darkly Luminous however, it slows down the pacing especially coupled with the Gothic and embellished language. While I thought that the language in the book was probably even better than the first one, the war between London and the Whisper World did not come to the forefront for a long time. This meant there was very little action until the last part of the book. Instead the book focuses on the romance of Alexi and Persephone, and the final battle is shrouded in mystery and talk of “fate”. The spirits of the old Guard know more about what’s going on that that of the new, and they withhold information for fear of jeopardizing the outcome. I’m never a fan of one character keeping information back from another character in books, and I wish this wasn’t a plot device used here.

In the meantime, lovers of romance will probably be happy with the way Alexi and Percy’s relationship is portrayed. We really get to see their intimate moments and it’s written in a very poetic way. Again, there is a sense of drama about their love and it does include a lot of sweeping gestures (Alexi actually does make them to light candles during their private getaways). While in the first book Alexi is a grumpy and aloof professor, his character is different in this one. Now that he has Percy, I found that Alexi’s previous self-confidence became more overbearing, and in contrast, Percy’s giggling and swooning made her look really young. Their age-difference and Alexi’s bossy, forceful personality, is saved only because Percy begins to show some backbone and corrects Alexi when he misdirects his anger towards her. The danger to Percy is ongoing (the Guard is fighting for her), and Alexi does not do well in those circumstances. There was one particular scene where the result of Alexi’s forcefulness is conveyed which made me dislike him quite a bit, despite his regret for his actions.

Other relationships within the Guard, which were hinted at in the first book are further cultivated here. Percy as the perceptive newcomer urges Elijah, Jane, Rebecca, Michael and Josephine to be open about their feelings before they either ruin the group dynamic or something happens in the battle with Darkness. I’ve been particularly interested in Rebecca, who has loved Alexi for years but that isn’t returned. She instead sees Alexi very happy with Percy and dispairs, oblivious to the fact that Michael has been in love with her.  The story seems to concludes satisfactorily in this second volume, although it looks like there will be a short story that focuses on one pairing in the guard in A Midwinter Fantasy (October 2010). I am not sure if there will be a continuation after this book, although I’m sure there could be.

Overall: The lovely, dense language is why I like this series, although it’s Gothic tone and embellishments mean that the book is something to be slowly savored, and some readers may chafe at the pacing. I thought the language in this installment was even more lovely than the first book, but I had some minor reservations in this one compared to the first.

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Smokin Hot Books – 4 smooches
Lurv a la mode – 4 and a half scoops (out of 5)
Brooke Reviews – positive
Smexy Books – 4.5 out of 5
Babbling about Books – B
A Buckeye Girl Reads – positive
Anna’s Book Blog – 5 (out of 5)

Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn

This is the second book in the Lady Julia Gray mysteries. I found a used copy of this book for sale at Savers in Phoenix, AZ.  Getting the second book actually prompted me to start the first one. The review for Silent in the Grave (book 1)  if you missed it, is here – https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

The Premise: After the events of the first book and a trip overseas, Lady Julia and her brothers are called back to the family home for Christmas. Julia’s father, Lord March, has a few family and assorted guests over at the March home, Belmont Abbey. Amid the usual family drama, odd occurrences start to happen and (of course, this is a murder mystery series after all), things culminate in a murder.

My Thoughts: I read this over my Holiday vacation, and it’s a book that goes with that season. It’s got snow, and family coming together, and holiday traditions. It is a good book to read curled up in a chair during winter and read for hours. The book is not a short one, but with so much going on, it entertains quite well.

Compared to the first book, Silent in the Sanctuary had more story threads and twists. Which is not entirely surprising because there are a lot more characters, and they’re all staying in the same house, which makes things ripe for conflict and mystery. Along with Julia and her immediate family (Julia’s sister Portia, her father, her two brothers Plum and Lysander, and Lysander’s wife Violante), there are several guests – Alessandro, Madame Hortense de Bellefleur, Lucian Snow (the local curate), Julia’s two cousins Lucy and Emma, Lucy’s fiance Sir Cedric and his clerk Henry Ludlow, Julia’s aunt Dorcas, Nicolas Brisbane, and Charlotte King. It’s a long list, and I may be forgetting someone!

The story is like a game of Clue, full of possible suspects in one house, and plenty of hints at odd things afoot. There were missing items and people, and sneaking about in the middle of the night. In the end we don’t have just one mystery to solve, and there are a few surprising twists I never saw coming. I think I was more surprised at the twists in this one than the first.

And then there is the romance between Julia and Nicolas. Brisbane. His presence is a surprise for Julia,  thanks to her meddling father.  At the end of Silent in the Grave, she thought that they had romantic possibilities, but he never writes her while she is away. Julia is even more annoyed to find out that he got engaged in the meantime. Delicious I say! It’s a little different now that Julia has gotten used to being an independent widow. Julia is a lot more assertive, in a very March family way. She holds her own in solving the mysteries and even discovers some things Brisbane has missed. It also means she doesn’t worry as much about societal rules, and if she thinks Brisbane is in the wrong, she lets him know it.  It’s an engrossing dance between Julia and Brisbane, but but both parties have their baggage, and this affects how they see the other person. I had the feeling this was especially true of Brisbane. Julia was so different from when we first met her that it sometimes surprised me. I think I may have read this second book so close to the first that wisps of the Old Julia stayed in my brain so there was a clash with the new one, but that was a minor issue that I think only I had.

Overall: Loved the first one and the second one is again a strong book – I think I liked the twists in the mystery in this one more than the first book, but I’m undecided on which book I liked more for the romance. I really need to read book 3, Silent on the Moor! This series is shaping up to be one of my favorites, and if you are even considering reading these books, I strongly urge you to try them.

Mom’s verdict: She liked this one too. I think it took her longer to read than Silent in the Grave, but she agreed that the mystery had multiple surprises. She wants me to get book 3 so she can borrow it.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
Historical Tapestry – 4.5 out of 5
Angieville – “I went in with the highest of expectations and Silent in the Sanctuary more than lived up to them”
Dear Author – B+
Tempting Persephone – also positive

Silent In the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Silent in the Grave
Deanna Raybourn

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

Other reviews:

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

Links
:
Silent Pretties — Angie points out the gorgeous UK covers for the Julia Grey mysteries. I want them too!
Silent in the Grave website