Deanna Raybourn scores a winner with her newest Victorian mystery, a sequel to 2007’s SILENT IN THE GRAVE. The action emanates from a stately country manor outside London. The March family’s Sussex estate is a former abbey, home to a cloistered order of Brothers. Earl March and his children, ribald and eccentric, have occupied the estate for several generations.
A recent widow, daughter Lady Julia Grey, accompanied by brothers Plum and Lysander, recuperates in southern Italy from physical and emotional trauma. Raybourn’s debut novel was Lady Julia’s intriguing story of solving her husband’s murder. Now, recovering from her harrowing experiences, she puzzles over her lack of mail. Nicholas Brisbane, her consort in solving the crime, has ignored her for five months.
Lysander’s sudden engagement to a fiery Italian beauty, Violante, triggers March’s unexpected request for their return to England for the Christmas holidays. Plum adds to the traveling party when he invites his Italian friend, Count Alessandro Fornacci, a wealthy young man who adores Julia.
March has assembled a house party that brims with intriguing personalities, including two eccentric maiden aunts; orphaned cousins Lucy and Emma; the local vicar’s curate, Lucien Snow; daughter Portia; and Sir Cedric Easley, a wealthy tradesman. Sir Cedric has become Lucy’s fiance, despite a wide gap in their ages. Lucien exhibits his flirtatious nature, an uncommon trait in a religious trainee. Ultimate shock jars Julia when her father re-introduces her to Lord Hargrave, formerly known to her as Nicholas Brisbane. In turn, he adds a twist to her perplexing emotions with the introduction of his fiancée, Mrs. Harriet King, a widow. Overwhelmed, Julia’s composure remains stoic. The abbey’s spacious hallways can be useful in prevention of more than chance meetings.
In fact, the abbey’s religious history maintains a volume of traditions long ago forsaken but possible to reincarnate. Late one night the guests are awakened by a shriek that slices the quiet hallways. In the former chapel chamber, a morbid scene plays out. Lucien’s body lies on the cold stone floor. Above him, Lucy clutches an iron candelabrum that drips slow, heavy crimson drops of blood.
In the pandemonium following the discovery, a bewildered Lucy staggers toward Father March, grabs onto an iron ring attached to the wall and declares, “My lord! In this holy place, I claim the right of sanctuary!”
“Child, what have you done that you would invoke sanctuary?’
“My lord,” she continues. “You cannot take me for murder. Under the law I am given forty days.”
The girl collapses but is joined by her sister, Emma, refusing to leave the holy room where sanctuary from immediate prosecution is protected. March responds with compassion and allows the scenario to continue. But he enlists Julia and Nicholas to sort out the mysteries of the alleged murder before he contacts London authority. Lucien’s body will remain in the cook’s larder until a later date. Julia and Nicholas delve into the crime with vigor but find themselves often at odds in their methods. Revelations abound, with dirty secrets unveiled that connect numerous guests besides Lucy with a motive for murder.
Each chapter is prefaced with a quote from Shakespeare that delineates the content to follow. Raybourn tantalizes the reader by inference before she develops the ensuing action, and Victorian-scrolled artwork further illustrates the chapter title pages, which is a clever touch. Although not familiar with the first book in the Silent series, I am an enthusiastic reader and will anticipate SILENT ON THE MOOR, scheduled for release in 2009.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 23, 2011