Silent in the Grave
Lady Julia Grey ever wanted was a normal life. Born into the large
March family, all of whom pride themselves on their eccentricities,
Julia is something of an oddity: "I had never fought a duel or run
away with my footman or ridden a horse naked into Whitehall…I
did not even keep a pet monkey or wear turbans or dye my dogs pink.
I lived quietly, conventionally, as I had always wanted, and I
think I had been something of a disappointment to them." Part of
Julia's conventionality is her marriage to her childhood friend and
sweetheart, Edward, a gentle, quiet, somewhat frail man.
Heart problems run in Edward's family, so when Edward collapses and
dies at a party, Julia is saddened but not entirely surprised or at
all suspicious. That is, until private investigator Nicholas
Brisbane contacts her. It turns out that Edward had received a
number of threatening messages in the months leading up to his
death, messages that lead Brisbane, and eventually Julia, to
acknowledge that Edward's death in fact may have been murder.
Almost as soon as she is able to emerge from the required one-year
mourning period, Julia throws herself headlong into the search for
Edward's killer, frequently butting heads with the enigmatic,
endlessly fascinating Brisbane. Along the way, Julia finds herself
troublingly, unwillingly, attracted to Brisbane, a man who is in
every way the opposite of her late husband: "Brisbane was not at
all the sort of man I admired. He was too dark, too tall, too
thickly muscled, altogether too much. I preferred a slender,
epicene form, with delicately sketched muscles and golden hair.
Graceful, aristocratic, like a Renaissance statue. Like
During her investigation, Julia uncovers secrets about Edward,
about her own family, even about her servants and about Brisbane
himself. Most importantly, though, Julia uncovers hidden elements
of her own personality, a strength and intellect she didn't know
she possessed, as well as --- just maybe --- her own flair for the
unconventional and unexpected.
Deanna Raybourn's debut novel is a wickedly clever send-up of the
Victorian mystery genre. SILENT IN THE GRAVE explores the darker
regions of the Victorian landscape, from the parlors and boudoirs
of Julia's aristocratic world to the exotic society of the Gypsies.
Grave robbing, prostitution, gambling, absinthe --- even a pet
raven --- all contribute to the novel's sensational appeal.
Raybourn tempers these dark topics, though, by mixing in plenty of
humor. Absurd situations abound (including a truly bizarre murder
weapon), and quirky characters verge on caricature.
As she leaves her self-imposed cocoon and becomes a woman of the
world, Julia's own first-person narrative style gradually develops
from unintentionally amusing naïve impressions to more mature
--- and at times wickedly funny --- commentaries on the persons and
places that surround her.
Add to the mix one of the most memorable heroines in recent memory
--- a woman who is both convincingly of her time and yet undeniably
modern --- and a thrillingly twisted conclusion, and what you have
is a winning equation for a top-notch historical mystery that will
leave readers dying for the sequel.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011