Dear Mrs. Raybourn,
I remember when historical mysteries first started to become really popular. Then after that it seems that every possible time period and social class of historical sleuth got turned into some author’s hero or heroine. And I got a little bored with the genre and annoyed at thinking about Queen Elizabeth, Jane Austen or Beau Brummel being turned into crime scene investigators. Cut to me getting the arc of your second Lady Julia Gray novel, “Silent in the Sanctuary,” a few months ago – yes, I did read it a month ago and took notes and never got the review written, mea culpa – and the lovely cover with its gothic overtones plus the intriguing back blurb made me decide to come out of my self-imposed historical mystery celibacy.
Lady Julia is delightful. She’s obviously growing as a character. From the information you subtly include about the events of the first book – the details of which, thank God, are left unknown – we can see that she’s survived whatever was thrown at her, picked herself back up and begun to assert a little independence. After five months with two of her brothers in beautiful Italy, she’s growing bored and hoping that this isn’t all she has to look forward to in life. Her aristocratic father’s preemptory summons home for the Christmas house party being given in the family’s vast country estate shakes her back into alertness. After all, she is a Victorian lady, that breed of women known world round for their expert managing skills – something her two brothers, who are more than a little intimidated by her, can attest to.
Back home Julia discovers the motley crew who’ve been invited to share the season with the eccentric March family includes Nicholas Brisbane. He’s sort of a fixer and solver of problems for those who wish for discretion and have the money to pay for it. He did something in book one, which lead to him working with Julia, which lead to hot feelings, which lead to – Julia thought – romantic intentions, which in the past five months have resulted in zip. Yeah, Julia’s mad and gets even madder when her father introduces Nicholas’s fiancee.
One thing I like about this book is that it’s mainly character driven. The murder doesn’t take place for nearly half the book but I was enjoying the trip there so much that I didn’t care that the ‘main event,’ so to speak, still hadn’t happened. You also do a great job of showing the characters’ social class and working that into the story. The Earl is aware of his power and influence and what he can do with it yet also knows that populist press will have a field day with any mucking around due to fact that his shirt-tail relation stands accused of the crime.
The March family can be eccentric – and they are – yet they couldn’t get away with having a murderer in the family. As Julia’s elderly Aunt Dorcas reminds her, the world has changed from the past when the aristocracy could get away with almost anything. Now scandal must be avoided and family secrets must remain just that.
The setting is also well done with a sort of gothic/”Ten Little Indians” feel to it. You do give clues about ultimate id of the killer but cloak them nicely. As to the fate of the last person who dies – yeah he was bad but did he deserve this? Julia discovers to her unease that some killers will never be brought to justice but I like how she helps catch one of them. She’s fairly smart about how she gets involved. She does make a mistake at the end but gets called on it and accepts her fault. At book’s end she states that she’s ready and eager to stand on her own and be any man’s equal. In fact, she demands to be treated as an equal. She doesn’t eschew love or marriage based on her first experience but she won’t go back to being treated as an infant who needs to be swaddled and fussed over. If Brisbane can’t accept it, then it’s over between them. Brisbane and Julia’s exchanges are great – snappy and intelligent dialogue, a little competition to solve the mystery without the other, yet underneath are all the feelings for each other just bursting to get out.
I was disappointed in Julia’s maid, Morag. Must we always have a blunt speaking lower class servant? Though my miffness was slightly mollified by Aquinas, the perfect butler. I want one like him! The fate of Julia’s first husband’s relatives in trying to deal with their decrepit family estate makes me think of the “Importance of Being Ernest” comment from Lady Bracknell: “What between the duties expected of one during one’s lifetime, and the duties exacted from one after one’s death, land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure. It gives one position, and prevents one from keeping it up. That’s all that can be said about land.”
Janine, who adores fine writing, has glanced at book one and said it looks like the type she will like. I have to agree with her as the prose is smooth with a period feel. And an English feel – at least for this American. I’m glad that I have book one to tide me over until book three is released next year. I look forward to watching Julia and Nicholas Brisbane cross swords again and, hopefully, resolve their romantic feelings for each other. B+