By Deanna Raybourn
Release Date: June 21, 2011
I read Silent in the Grave shortly after its release in 2007 and have eagerly followed Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series since. The mysteries are effectively plotted and set in the Victorian period, a time I find fascinating, and I find the development of the protagonists, individually and as a couple, riveting. I was thrilled when Mira gave me the opportunity via NetGalley to read the latest in the series early.
In this fifth book in the series, Lady Julia and her husband, Nicholas Brisbane, have recently returned from their honeymoon and are adjusting to their life in London as a married couple. Julia continues her experiments with gunpowder with predictably explosive results, and Brisbane, with the noble aim of protecting his wife, continues his attempts to limit Julia’s involvement in his work. His efforts are futile, of course, especially when Julia learns that her eldest brother, Lord Bellmont, has consulted Brisbane about an indiscretion that has led to blackmail. Scandal, murder, and espionage all become part of the tangled mystery that ends with a deeper understanding and a more fierce commitment between the Brisbanes, but not without exacting a heavy price.Raybourn has described her books as historical fiction with enough mystery and romance for fans of those genres to read them happily. Whatever her recipe for blending history, romance, and mystery, it’s one with which this reader remains pleased. One of the delights of this series is the way the author weaves period history into the story. This time spiritualism, the fragile state of political power, and growing concerns about Germany are integral parts of the mystery. I pride myself on solving the mystery before the reveal, but the villain’s identity caught me by surprise. I took a couple of steps in the right direction, but then I wandered far afield. I had a completely different villain with a different motive in mind.
As always, for me, the characters are the magnets that pull me back to a series. I always look forward to encountering members of Julia’s eccentric family. I loved seeing Portia with baby Jane again. Brother Plum plays a role in book 5 too, and I have hopes he’ll be featured more prominently later. A new and intriguing member of Julia’s family is introduced, and I anticipate seeing more of him as well. Raybourn also continues to unveil bits of Brisbane’s past. The scenes in the gypsy camp were some of the most vivid in the book, showing new pieces of Nicholas to add to the puzzle that is Brisbane. The relationship between Julia and Brisbane is again the center of the book, and Raybourn proves that what follows the traditional HEA can be as compelling as what leads to it.
The Dark Enquiry includes wit and humor along with rawer emotions and the suspense that one expects in a mystery. I found myself chuckling at many of Julia and Brisbane’s exchanges and teary-eyed at others. And the first cemetery scene offered an edge-of-the-seat reading that reminded me of the horror movies I watched as a child.
The 4.5 star rating is attributable to my concern with the ending. Despite its emotional punch, I found myself thinking that it would prove a convenient way to keep Julia an active member of the detecting team. I won’t say more for fear of spoilers and because it may be that my cynicism is coloring those final scenes. At any rate, it looks as if Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane are next bound for Italy, and I plan to join them when the next book is published.