Raybourn’s “Lady Julia Gray” novels are fun little mysteries with quirky characters who find themselves in situations that are often fairly dark. The juxtaposition of entitled Victorian British gentry and crimes of depravity creates a nice balance of grit and wit. The books center on Lady Jane Grey, her eccentric family, the half gypsy but fully rogue, detective Nicholas Brisbane, and various quirky and potentially murderous characters.
In “Silent on the Moor”, Lady Jane Grey, her sister, Portia, and their brother, Valerius, serving as reluctant chaperone, venture to Brisbane’s new home in the swampy moor. Uninvited but determined to discover what Brisbane’s romantic intentions with her are, Lady Jane is surprised to find Brisbane not at home. Instead, they are welcomed to the decrepit Grims Grave Hall by Lady Allenby and her two daughters Ailith and Hilda. With no living male relatives, these three creepy ladies are at the mercy of the new owner, Brisbane, and remain at the manor while he kindly sets up a smaller home for them on the property.
While wondering where Brisbane is and how he came to purchase a crumbling mansion with creepy spinsters included, Julia snoops around the house and discovers the office of Lady Allenby’s deceased son, Redwall. Having found an occupation to pass the time, Julia attempts to catalog the late Redwall Allenby’s collection of Egyptian artifacts. Hoping that the sale of the cataloged items could generate funds for the destitute Allenby ladies, Julia picks through the artifacts and discovers something horrible in the priest hole behind the fireplace. Mystery!
The backdrop of the moor, the dilapidated mansion, and the creepy spinsters all add to the spooky atmosphere. The cast of characters both dead and alive are intriguing and the slow unraveling of Brisbane’s past helps to flesh out the earlier books in the series. Familial bonds of blood, tradition and obligation and the fierceness of a love that can be a refuge as much as a prison are all wound up in book 3 of the series.
Book 4 in the series, “Dark Road to Darjeeling”, has Julia, sister Portia and Plum, this adventure’s reluctant brother chaperone, setting off to a tea plantation in India to visit Portia’s former lover, Jane, who is newly widowed and very pregnant. Sensing from Jane’s letters that her husband’s death may have been the result of Murder!, Portia drags her siblings to the foot of the Himalayas to insure Jane’s safety and to discover the truth of Freddie Cavendish’s death.
Here, the place is the thing! The Valley of Eden rests in the foothills of the Himalayas, surrounded by fields of tea plants, a crumbling former monastery and the Cavendish family manor. Adjusting to recent changes in their relationship, Brisbane and Julia set about solving the mystery separately. While trying to discover if Freddie was murdered and by whom, Julia encounters pesky peacocks, a lady-eating tiger, an avant-garde artist whose pet snake is a fashion accessory and a mostly feral boy naturalist. Not everyone is what or who they seem, per usual, but the cast of characters in book 4 of this series is by far my favorite. A whole spectrum of ex-pats are here, living in a remote and beautiful world full of secrets.
I really enjoy this series and I respect the darker aspects of the crimes. The murders here are unconventional. The characters are always well drawn and encountering some from past books in the series popping up here and there is fun. Lady Julia Gray’s ability to constantly misguess the perpetrator and the push-pull relationship of Lady Julia and Brisbane does lend to some eye rolling on my part, but I thoroughly enjoy them anyway. The eye rolling is part of the fun.