Why this book
This book caught my attention at my local library a few weeks back the book jacket featuring in purple a gothic mansion and a picture of a Victorian lady.It captured my imagination as it promised a "Wickedly witty Lady Julia Grey Mystery" so as this was a new series and author for me I thought I would give it a bash.
About the author
She is a sixth-generation native Texan, who grew up in San Antonio, She trained as a teacher but after three years as a teacher, left education to have a baby and pursue writing full-time she didn't however get published till about 14 years later she has a website if you want to know more about her and her books It is www.deannaraybourn.com
About the book
I hadn't actually realized when I picked this book that it was the second book in the Lady Julia Grey series. Though I enjoyed reading the book I do think it would be better read in order and you should probably read the first book "Silent in the grave" first and I intend to go back to read that one.
The book starts in Italy with Lady Julia and her brothers contemplating their return for Christmas to the family home in England the Year is 1887.They return to the family home of Bellmont Abbey in Sussex only to find the house is full to the rafters with family and friends. Including thier cousin Lucy who due to be married over the festive period at the Abbey's church. However the homecoming celebrations quickly take a ghastly turn when one of the guests is found brutally murdered in the chapel and a member of Lady Julia's own family confesses to the crime claiming sanctuary in the Abbey. Certain of her cousin's innocence, Lady Julia resumes her unlikely and deliciously intriguing partnership with Nicholas Brisbane a fellow guest and private investigator. Together they set out to unravel a tangle of deceit before the killer can strike again.
The pace of this book is that of a slow burner really as the murder doesn't happen till about a third of the way into the book. This worked fine for me as it allowed me to build a picture of all the characters and start to form relationships with them. I think this was important to do for this novel as the murder is all about the motive and if you don't understand the characters their backgrounds and personalities then it would make the murder seem implausible. Some murder mystery fans may find this introduction to long but for the reasons I have given I think the author pitched this right.
The storyline is multi-layered and mesmerizing there are so many twists and turns and red herrings that you feel like you're getting whiplash as your latest theory gets blown out of the water as it were. I think the fact that the family home was once an ancient Abbey adds to the atmosphere of the story. It is very much in the veins of a gothic novel such as a Henry James and with a nod to Emily Bronte and Wuthering heights. The writer makes it seem as if anything is possible in a location where the very stones seem to permeate with history, ghosts and drama.
The main characters lady Julia is very much a Victorian lady with her manners dress and language but there is a spark of independence that Julia has following living with her brothers and becoming a widow. It is almost as if she has embraced a new way of life now and doesn't wish to return to the shackles of marriage and convention. Her character gains confidence as the novel progress and she makes more and more decisions for herself rather than relying on others judgments. In all she is a well rounded person and someone who is loyal and you can't help but like.
The character of Nicholas Brisbane is my opinion is made up of a blend of Heathcliffe with his brooding intensity and Romany background and a dash of the Sherlock Homes investigator. This makes him a very intriguing man I found myself longing to find out more about him and his history. But equally I was cheering on Julia to break down some of his barriers to see what lies beneath this brood dashing gent.
The approach-and-retreat pattern to Julia and Brisbane relationship is wonderfully written we see how Julia's confidence is growing and Brisbane treats her with a delicious blend of heat and brusqueness as he tries to come to terms with his own emotions.
I loved the details of Julia's home, her clothes, her interests, her friends, her meals, her maids the author appears to describe very well the Victorian period. The way she writes about the social mores of the time alongside the witty dialogues and the characters' acerbic tongues seems to transport you straight into the world of the characters at Belmont Abbey. I found myself wishing to go explore the hidden passages and dress for dinner with the whole March family.
The cast of supporting characters in this book are wonderful the author introduces them gradually to the reader but with the warring that the March family is well known for its eccentricities, suggesting even that the saying "Mad as a March hare "was coined about their family. Despite their eccentric ways and flamboyant personalities they are still exceedingly well drawn and believable for their era when there was a class of people who lived a social life without responsibilities. The family members I thought were funny, sarcastic, irreverent, and fiercely loyal to each other, the sought of family where they can criticizes each other but if someone from the outside was to join in the would attack such as the wonderful Aunt Dorcas, who is an ancient kleptomaniac they would defend her to the end of the world but will keep their valuables out of her way.
As I have already mentioned this is the second book in the series and whilst I thoroughly enjoyed this book I think that for me any way I would of enjoyed it more if I had read the first book in the series prior to reading this book This is because the of the interactions between Julia and Nicholas would have been more understandable and I think that because I wasn't fully aware of their history (though I could guess) I did miss several nuances and hints between the two and why they were acting at times the way they did.
This is a wonderful cross between a gothic novel and a murder mystery novel set in the Victorian era. The author describes in wonderful detail the period and characters and draws you into the novel very well. I would definitely recommend this book to other people
Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Mira Books (19 Dec 2008)
On sale on Amazon for £4.19 new and from £1.68 used on the Amazon Market place