Friday, September 26, 2008

Review: Silent in the Grave

Title: Silent in the Grave
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction

Series: Lady Julia Grey Mystery/Book 1

Lady Julia Grey is married to her childhood friend Sir Edward Grey. The story opens at a dinner party Julia and Edward are hosting. Edward is struck down by a seizure and later dies. He had been in poor health for some time so this wasn't a complete shock to Julia. She finds herself left widowed and far wealthier than she ever expected. Also at the same dinner party she meets Nicholas Brisbane. He is a business associate of her late husband and was there to lend assistance when Edward collapsed. Nicholas later reveals to Julia that he does not believe Edward's death was due to ill health but instead believes he was murdered.

So starts this wonderful historical mystery. The story takes place in 1886 Victorian London and is told in Julia's point of view. Raybourn graduated with double majors in English and history and it definitely comes through in her writing. The reader is taken back in time and gets to experience the same London that Julia does.

Julia was raised with her nine siblings by her father, Lord March and her Aunt Hermia. Her mother died shortly after Julia's youngest brother Valerius was born. Valerius, who is six years younger than Julia, comes to live with her after Edward's death. While she and Val prefer to keep their contact to a minimum they do have a complex relationship and we see how it changes over time as the two are forced to have greater discussions than a simple passing in the hallway.

Sir Simon Grey also lives at Grey House with Julia. He is Edward's cousin and heir since Julia and Edward had no children. Simon was also Julia's childhood friend and is bedridden and in ill health similar to Edward.

Julia also has a wonderful relationship with her sister Portia. Portia is widowed but chose a different path after her mourning period rather than remarrying. She is one woman who knows what she wants and doesn't give a fig about what society thinks with regards to her personal life.

Nicholas Brisbane is a character with a past that he does not want to share. Julia is drawn to him because he is so different from the men she is used to interacting with. He tells Julia that he is in the business of "disposing of matters of a delicate nature for people who do not care to share their difficulties with the Metropolitan Police". He is a fascinating character who's layers are slowly revealed as the story progresses.

One thing I found interesting was how Julia perceived her marriage and relationship to Edward. This was not a love match but a marriage of convenience. They genuinely liked each other but theirs was a relationship of the aristocratic husband and wife, not passionate lovers. It's possible to consider her relationship with Simon deeper than that with Edward. At one point Julia is thinking about when she first met Edward and Simon. That over the years Simon came to be thought of as another brother to her. She is deeply concerned with his failing health and while imagining him dying thinks:

In some ways, his death would be more wrenching than Edward's. Edward had been my husband. Simon was my friend.

I really think this says a lot about how she thought of her marriage to Edward. There is a very distinct line that Julia has drawn between the two relationships.

Then there is her relationship with Nicholas. This is one that at first she maintains on a strict business level but eventually it turns into a partnership, at least in Julia's mind. As they work together to discover what really killed Edward the lines become blurry as to what their relationship is and what it may become. There is an attraction between the two that neither one wants to admit to.

I had a very slight problem with the characters of Magda, the Gypsy laundress and Morag, Julia's ladies maid and reformed prostitute. I would have preferred they have dissimilar names. I found myself getting them mixed up at times.

I completely enjoyed the story of Julia and Nicholas and their search for the truth. The March family members and the other secondary characters were a delight. They were not there merely for decoration but added substance to the plot. Putting aside the splendid language use, the growth of the protagonists and the well developed secondary characters, this was simply a wonderful story. The second book in the Lady Julia Grey Mystery series is Silent in the Sanctuary which is at the top of my TBR pile. The third book Silent on the Moor is due out March 1, 2009. I look forward to reading more about these characters and the mysteries they will solve. You can find out more about this author at her blog.

Rating: A


  1. Great review! I was just looking up Amazon reviews for Silent in the Grave today and thought that I would get it. Your review made me positive about my choice.

  2. Thanks Brie!

    I'm starting on Silent in the Sanctuary next week ~ I've read good reviews on it too.

  3. Ooh, can't wait to see what you think of the follow up.