by Deanna Raybourn
The polarized reviews for Silent in the Grave (Lady Julia Grey 1), by Deanna Raybourn, caught my interest and before long I found myself immersed, or rather drowning, in this British historical thriller.
“Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.”
Before Sir Edward Grey could show this threatening message to Nicholas Brisbane, the private investigator he hired for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies. His wife, Lady Julia Grey, believes the cause is due to a hereditary heart deformity. When Nicholas confronts Julia and suggests the possibility of murder, Julie is outraged and accuses him of being an opportunist (and we’ll get into this in just a moment). It is a reaction she regrets upon discovering that damning note. She seeks out Nicholas to bring Edward’s murderer to justice – an investigation that would put both their lives in danger.
There are many things I like about Silent in the Grave – the beautiful and poignant quotes to start each chapter; the extravagant and alluring upper class Victorian England setting; the eccentric March family, particular the unapologetic Portia and the kind-hearted Valerius, to name a few. Unfortunately, none of these really mattered because…
I don’t like Lady Julia Grey. There, I said it.
She is a simpleton with an unbecoming, righteous aura of social elitism. She is neither witty nor rational, but rather spoiled and complacent. For example, on the night that Edward (her husband!) collapses in a room full of dinner guests, Julie was “wondering what was going to happen to all the [leftover] food” and dreading the work required when she puts on “widow’s weed.” Really? I would be worried senseless…at least. Her investigative skills, if you can even call it skills, are impetuous and clumsy often foolishly putting herself and others in harms way. I generally enjoy character flaws because they add realism and charisma, and allow me to connect with the characters. In this case however, the chasm was too great to bridge and I couldn’t connect with Julia. Her one saving grace is that she does have a softer, kinder side.
But where Julia falls short, Ms. Raybourn makes up for it in the enigmatic and mercurial Nicholas Brisbane whose astute investigative skills are reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes. He is an intriguing character with a backstory rich in mystery and complexity. He draws me into his story, and by mere association Julia’s story – a predictable, yet disturbing, murder mystery.
I’m uncertain if I will read the sequel, Silent in the Sanctuary (Lady Julia Grey 2). If I do, it is to further answer the question: Who is Nicholas Brisbane?