Friday, October 30, 2009

Non-Laughter Reviews: VICTORIAN MYSTERY

(Book 2, Lady Julia Grey series)

by Deanna Raybourn
Historical Mystery

Christmas house party is interrupted by murder; guests all seem to have secrets of their own.

Very pretty - mysterious, retro, and upper-class invoking, in blue tones to contast the previous volume's red.

What Works
How Apprentice Writer loves this series. Book 2 picks up where Book 1 (Silent in the Grave) left off, with the widowed and recently-almost-murdered heroine Lady Julia Grey recuperating with a long visit to Italy to spend time with two of her many brothers. The author's debut novel is widely quoted when the topic of excellent first lines come up, and the one here is no slouch either:

"Well, I suppose that settles it. Either we all go home to England for Christmas or we hurl ourselves into Lake Como to atone for our sins."

Back to England they go, taking the whirlwind-courtshipped Italian bride of one brother, an Italian count harboring feelings for Julia, and a high maintenance Italian hound for good measure (Julia has a talent for acquiring stray animals by accident) along and picking up a flamboyant sister on the way. Returned to the ancestral home - an enormous, ancient, deconsecrated abbey - they find a large and diverse party already gathered, including their imperious father the Earl, two impoverished distant cousins, a nouveau-riche manufacturer and his servant, a man of the church, an elderly aunt, and, certainly not least in Julia's eyes - the enigmatic and magnetically attractive Nicholas Brisbane, special inquiry agent. Who has brought his new fiancee.

Julia is shocked, both by the change in his status and choice of intended, a woman she repeatedly describes as unintelligent and uninteresting. In the vastly entertaining (to the reader) custom of British house parties, murder most foul soon rears its ugly head, and Julia and Brisbane are off once again - alternately sleuthing together, trying to outsmart one another, and sharing the occasional kiss, all while observing the customs and conventions of an aristocratic Victorian setting in which they are, of course, snowed in. A disappearance, spectacular jewel theft, and not one but two hauntings are thrown in for good measure. All tremendous fun, and the return of a Gypsy presence adds an extra layer deftly serving multiple purposes. The Roma characters, together with memorable servant characters, family members, and animal characters which are unique yet whose every mention serves a purpose beyond endless gushing pet love (AW is looking at you, Kristan Higgins) all seem to be Raybourn trademarks, and AW enjoyed it all immensely.

What Doesn't
AW had to think a little on this one. Finally, she came up with the following:
Julia has a TSTL moment straight from a teenage horror movie of doing the silliest possible thing when she suddenly realizes an identity - and goes, in the middle of the night, alone, and without telling anyone her suspicion - straight to the possible villain's room. Since she is roundly chastised by her father, Brisbane, and most of all herself, though, AW was able to live with this.

Then again, there was the moment AW questioned Brisbane and Julia's sleuthing procedure. Murder is committed (most foully! *heh*) but in response, bedrooms are only searched, and that even secretly. Except for questioning the person who partially confessed and whose story has huge holes, there is no one-by-one interview of all present to recount movements and alibis. And, shades of the wonderful movie 'Gosford Park', it doesn't occur to anyone even for a moment that any of the servants might be involved, either directly or as an accomplice. On both counts, Hercule Poirot would roll in his grave.

AW will admit the possibility that she has been unduly influened by previous Brit murder mysteries seen or read, and that despite absence of both noted points, the story unrolled well.

A delicious installment of the story begun in Book 1, with Julia's first person voice fitting the tale very well, her increasing determination to be her own person and achieve productive rather than merely decorative ends (as was the typical lot of an upper-class woman of the period) a joy to behold, and the very slowly developing relationship with Brisbane as delicious as ever. Bring on Book 3 (Silent on the Moor)!

The Fine Print
AW read this as part of the Reader In Peril Reading Challenge. She availed herself of a library copy.

Learn about the author here


Julia Smith said...

As I'm in the starry infatuation of NaNo's opening day, I'll have to skip your tempting book review. Just wanted to let you know I received How to Tame a Modern Rogue in the mail last week.


M. said...

Hope you'll come back and let us know what you thought of it, Julia!

Thomma Lyn said...

As always, a great review. I enjoy how you discuss what works in a story, and what doesn't.

Hope the NaNoing is going well!

M. said...

Thanks, TL. I see from the NaNoWriMo boards that you are soundly kicking my butt, wordcount wise!

Wylie Kinson said...

I love that you read a variety of genres and can discuss them equally with thoughtfulness and the joy only a book lover can bring.
Yay You!!

M. said...

*blushing* Thanks, Wylie

Blog Archive