I've been trying to figure out what to write about this book ever since I finished it. There was something about it that got to me and I can't work out exactly what it was.
I'd heard lots of good things about Deanna Raybourn's debut mystery novel set in Victorian London. I read several good reviews and it was highly recommended by a friend. So I started off reading it with high hopes of a good story. And I got exactly that. Yet, as I hit the second half, I found my pleasure diminishing. Not to the point I didn't like the story - I did, a lot - but it wasn't quite as much as I had expected. And ironically, as I've thought about it I've come to the conclusion that Raybourn did her job a bit too well.
The main character and narrator, Lady Julia Grey, is beautifully conceived. She's from a noble and eccentric family and has always been the quiet one. With the death of her husband she finds herself investigating his possible murder with investigator Nicholas Brisbane. Along the way she gets caught up with prositutes, gypsies, the members of her unconventional family and the lives of her servants. For all she develops her own sense of independence and is willing to befriend society's outcasts (most likely due to her father's influence), Julia is still very much a woman of her time and place in society. She is offended when an acquaintance of her brother's calls her "Julia" leaving off her title and she seems to genuinely believe her family's position grants her not only rights and advantages but to some degree a natural superority. Julia's sensibilities are those of her time, not the reader's.
Raybourn shines here, creating a real sense of the Victorian era even while including enough "eccentricity" on Julia's side to appeal to the modern reader. And I think this is where the book dropped out a bit for me. The solution to the mystery is - in the eyes of Julia and those around her - rather squalid and sordid. Totally appropriate, beautifully written and very convincing, but still kind of dirty, and Julia is left very hurt and disturbed by it all. And Raybourn got me feeling that way too, even though with my modern sensibilities I completely understand the situation that led up to the murder (although I totally don't understand or condone murder in case you were wondering). So I was left with a feeling quite different from what I was expecting and that's where the book was a slight let down for me. I think the author was a little too successful in my case.
All the same, this is a very good book and a very good start to the series. I loved Julia and Brisbane was also a excellent character with an interesting past that I'm sure will continue to effect his future behaviour. (Although I hope he and Julia snipe at each other a little less as that began to annoy me by the end.) Julia's family are strange and wonderful and I'm delighted to see that they will be major players in the second book, which I plan to read.
Despite my downbeat response, I really do recommend this book as a successful period mystery and I'm looking forward to reading Silent in the Sanctuary (as soon as I convince my library to buy it).
Silent in the Grave
Lady Julia Grey, Book 1