Monday, October 11, 2010

Dark Road to Darjeeling

Dark Road to Darjeeling is Deanna Raybourn's fourth "Lady Julia Gray novel," and a lot has happened to Julia since I last visited her. Silent in the Grave, the first book in the series, is the only other Julia Gray novel I have read, so I was a little surprised to see that in 1889, as the novel opens, Julia and Nicholas Brisbane have married. The two are, in fact, on the eighth month of their extended honeymoon travels around the Mediterranean. 

Seated in a Cairo restaurant, and about to discuss what their lives will be like when they return to England, Julia and Brisbane are surprised by the sudden arrival of Portia and Plum, Julia's sister and brother. Portia delivers the upsetting news that her former lover, Jane Cavendish, believes her husband has been murdered on the Himalayan tea plantation on which Jane very soon expects to give birth to their child. Julia, solid amateur detective that she considers herself to be, agrees to accompany Portia and Plum to the plantation to see what they can learn there about the supposed murder. Brisbane, professional detective that he is, reluctantly agrees to go with them because he knows the dangerous mischief Julia is likely to get into on her own. 

At the plantation, Julia and Brisbane find it easier to identify the numerous people who would benefit from Freddie Cavendish's death than it is to determine whether he was even murdered. His aunt and cousin share an obvious motive: financial control of the tea plantation. Others, including some of the plantation's expatriate neighbors and one or two of the Indians employed in service, have equally compelling, but less obvious, reasons for wanting to see Freddie dead. A more immediate concern for Julia and Brisbane is whether Jane and her baby are in danger from the same hand that might have ended Freddie's life. 

Dark Road to Darjeeling is a very good Victorian mystery, but that is not the best thing about this book. What most makes this series memorable is the relationship between Lady Gray and Brisbane, two characters who were meant for each other and for no one else. Julia is an independent, stubborn, confident and competitive young woman with a remarkable sense of humor. She loves her husband completely but cannot help herself when it comes to competing with him to be the first to solve a mystery. Brisbane is her perfect match, a man who admires her skills, finds it difficult to say no to her, and knows how to protect her from her most dangerous impulses. 

It is great fun to watch the two of them at work amidst the vivid 1880s atmosphere in which Deanna Raybourn places them. Raybourn populates this remote Indian outpost (neither Julia, nor Brisbane are quite sure where they are anymore) with exactly the type of eccentric characters one would expect to find in such an isolated part of the world. One or two of the mystery's evolving coincidences do require the reader to make a conscious effort to suspend disbelief for a moment, but that is part of the fun. Lady Gray novels are, above all else, relaxing escapism. 

Rated at: 4.0


  1. I just bought the first three in the series as a Kindle 'bundle.' I look forward to reading them one right after the other. A rare treat.

  2. Parag, it's a fun book. A nice little mystery with lots of suspects to sort through. I've gotten into the habit of taking notes about characters when they are first introduced into a mystery and i find that I enjoy them a lot more now. This is a good one.

  3. Nan, I do plan to find those middle two some day. Good know how that works.