Unlike the first book in this series, there isn’t any immediate death to start off with here. Instead, we have Lady Julia Grey in Italy with two of her brothers as she recovers from the events that ended book one. We are introduced to Lysander and Plum, her brothers, and also Lysander’s new Italian wife as they are enjoying their relaxed lifestyle. However, they receive a summons from their father to return home for Christmas; after some discussion they decide to make the journey home and drag along Alessandro, a friend who has clearly become besotted with Julia. As they begin their trip, Alessandro brings a gift for Julia – a Greyhound puppy which she isn’t too thrilled with. The logistics of travelling to England with a small dog that will require regular pee breaks made me shake my head, but then I’m a dog lover who thinks of these details. Fleur, as the puppy is named, is rather ignored for the rest of the book, so I don’t even know why it was deemed a necessary plot point.
At any rate, they make it home and there’s more family to meet, with other guests arriving for the season as well. It was almost too many folks with backstories to absorb in a short space of time. So now there’s a houseful of siblings, dotty aunts, half-cousins, a country clergyman, a retired courtesan, dogs, cats and of course, Nicholas Brisbane is there at her father’s request; the man she shared a kiss with and who intrigued her in the first book is apparently engaged now, with his fiancée in attendance as well. Julia feels put out with him as he hadn’t corresponded with her during her absence, and she decides to use Alessandro to prove she doesn’t care about Nicholas. Naturally, this isn’t going to end well!
And naturally, into this setting we have MURDER! A body is found dead in the sanctuary from a blow to the head with a candlestick. I don’t know if Ms Raybourn was intentionally channeling the game Clue, but it certainly comes across that way. With so many guests, there’s suspects aplenty but before the local constabulary can be called, a winter blizzard blows in and they are stranded there with a murderer on the loose. Cue ominous music…
Julia ends up conferring with Nicholas, despite her irritation with him over his engagement, and they share some heated moments and banter as they try to figure out whodunit. This book was more light-hearted than the first one, and the mystery not so twisty (but there is a surprise in regards to Brisbane’s fiancée). I had some quibbles with some of it – the puppy, as already mentioned, as well as Alessandro seemed tacked on and unnecessary; not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, but it seemed like some of it could have been trimmed out. The romance was again rather slow burning, but I realize that isn’t the true priority of the series. I’m still interested enough to read the next book to see where this is going.