The final novel in Deanna Raybourn’s trilogy continues Lady Julia Grey’s penchant for snooping. The second book, SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY, painted her as an able pseudo-detective, solving her husband’s murder at the side of private inquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane. Fascinated by the dark, handsome man, she’s devastated when he leaves her family’s English country estate after solving the crime. Now, Julia plans a visit to Brisbane’s new home, his reward from the government for a job well done. She must learn if he shares her strong emotional feelings. Brisbane has invited her sister, Portia, to put his household in order. To her elder brother’s chagrin, Julia packs for the trek to the northern England moor country. To save family face, younger brother Valerius will accompany them.
Their journey via train, wagon and farmer’s cart lands the party at Grimsgrave, a dilapidated country manor home located beyond the tiny hamlet of Lesser Howlett. In disrepair, Brisbane’s house is a dark, solemn testament to harsh conditions on the moors. Julia’s first confrontation with Brisbane is an unpleasant one, and he clearly wishes her to depart. To complicate the unconventional reception, Lady Ailith Allenby, her sister and their mother complete the icy welcome. The Allenby family has owned Grimsgrave since Saxon times but has been forced to sell when their fortunes disappeared. Sir Redwall Allenby, Ailith’s brother, died unexpectedly, leaving the women without financial security.
Ailith’s regal beauty lends to her psychological mystique. In friendship, she offers Julia a tour of the run-down estate, walking in the gardens and onto the moors. There, they go to the nearby cottage home of Rosalie Smith, a gypsy woman who conjures herbal preparations for multiple ailments and has prepared a medicinal for Ailith’s mother’s rheumatism. Julia warms to the Gypsy, feeling a connection between her and Brisbane.
The format of SILENT ON THE MOOR follows the pattern of earlier Lady Julia Grey novels. Each chapter is headed with intricate floral design followed by a quote from William Shakespeare’s works that pertains to the action appropriate to that particular section. To the reader, anticipating the coming events is like solving a puzzle.
Raybourn presents numerous characters who each embellish the plot but do not distract. From the innkeeper’s family to Allenby cousin Godwin, each secondary figure enhances the importance of the primary characters.
Brisbane leaves for business in Scotland, hoping Julia will become bored and return to London. But he underestimates her tenacity. She takes on the task of cataloging the deceased Lord Allenby’s vast collection of Egyptian relics, which is gathering dust; money from their sale will furnish a new home for the Allenby women. While doing this, she discovers something that will unearth Allenby family secrets. In a secret Priest’s Hole in the wall, she opens a tiny Egyptian burial cask containing mummified remains. Mystified, she carefully replaces it in the wall.
Upon his return, Brisbane suffers a debilitating illness and lingers near death. With no certain cure available, Julia seeks Rosalie’s help, hoping the gypsy woman has a potion to cure him. When a weakened Brisbane makes a slow recovery, Julia shares her discovery in the Egyptian artifacts with him. Together, they solve a mystery that will shatter the Allenby family tree. Julia’s quest is to conquer Brisbane’s childhood demons. His ties to Grimsgrave wind backwards through both families’ histories, blending their stories into a complicated maze. The Allenby family tree was rooted in purity, while Brisbane’s trailed from gypsy beginnings.
True to the English “whodunit” style, Raybourn plants suspicion in numerous places. Details congeal them into final solutions by the book’s conclusion. Setting plays an integral part in the story. Windswept, boggy moors provide natural terrains that enhance the plot line, and the bleak, foggy landscape rises in sharp contrast to Julia’s bright personality. Undaunted by obstacles thrown at her, she seeks new ways to make Brisbane open to her affection. Although their romantic relationship remains a basic element in SILENT ON THE MOOR, Raybourn binds Julia and Brisbane in a professional one. The two partner as detectives to untangle the web that threatens their personal union.
The question will remain open as to whether or not Raybourn will write Lady Julia Grey into future series adventures. A likable heroine, she’s a character with the nuances of a modern woman. She knows what she wants and streaks forward to get it.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 23, 2011