Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Silent in the Grave

Lady Julia Grey may have married into a family even more wealthy than her own, may have lived a sheltered life surrounded by servants, and may have been blind to the harsh world outside her front door but she carried the genes of her own eccentric family as well. The woman certainly had a sense of humor, and as first-person-narrator of Silent in the Grave she displays it immediately in the book’s opening lines: “To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching on the floor.”

Set in 1886 Victorian England, Deanna Raybourn’s irreverent novel combines elements of mysteries, romance novels and historical fiction in such a way that the book will appeal to a wide audience. I am not at all a fan of romance fiction, for instance, but despite the novel’s obvious appeal to fans of that genre, I never considered it to be a romance novel and enjoyed it for the historical detail and social observations in which Raybourn cloaked her story of Edward’s mysterious death.

Lady Julia married a man she had known since they were just children playing together and she believed that she knew everything about him. She certainly understood the fragility caused by a heart condition from which so many males in her husband’s bloodline suffered, including his cousin Simon who was dying in their home from that very illness. So when Edward suddenly dropped to the floor and died during a formal gathering at their home she was not much surprised.

What did surprise her was Brisbane’s revelation that her husband had hired him to investigate the mysterious death threats that he had been receiving in the mail for some time. Lady Julia may not at first have believed that there was anything mysterious about her husband’s sudden death, but she felt an obligation to her deceased husband to find out one way or the other. And if a crime had been committed she was determined that the criminal would pay a heavy price.

Nicholas Brisbane, expecting to use Lady Julia as just another source in his investigation, soon found himself forced to accept her as a full partner and, despite their series of adventures resulting from the investigation itself, it is their relationship that is really the heart of Silent in the Grave. And their mutual attraction means that they will be working together in the sequels that will follow this fist book in what promises to be a successful series.

Deanna Raybourn has written a first-rate Victorian mystery with an atmosphere and period details that have an authentic feel about them. Lady Grey’s sense of humor and the antics of her eccentric family keep the reader from becoming bogged down in the rather dark details of the mystery itself, a story involving deceptions, hidden sexual appetites, and disease that she could never have imagined before the death of her husband. All in all, this is an excellent debut novel despite the fact that it seemed to take forever for Lady Julia to finally make up her mind to investigate her husband’s death, a rather sluggish beginning that could potentially cause some readers to mistakenly give up on the book before it really hits its stride. At times I felt like shaking Lady Grey and telling her to get on with it. When she finally did, I found that it had been worth the wait.

Rated at: 3.5

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