Deanna Raybourn

Lady Julia Gray - Victorian Widow and Amateur Sleuth


"Silent in the Sanctuary"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky JUN 18, 2008)

Plum's smile deepened. "That is terribly cunning of you, Julia. I think living among Italians has developed a latent talent in you for intrigue."

It was a jest, but the barb struck too close to home, and I lowered my head over my needlework. I had engaged in an intrigue in England although I had never discussed it with my brothers.

Silent at the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn

Lady Julia Grey is a thirty-year-old widow who almost lost her life in Deanna Raybourn's debut mystery, Silent in the Grave. The sequel, Silent in the Sanctuary, opens in a luxurious rented villa near Lake Como in 1887. Julia, who narrates, has been enjoying Italy's picturesque sights and warm climate along with her brothers, Plum and Lysander, and their good friend, the handsome Alessandro Fornacci. Since she helped private inquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane hunt down her late husband's killer, Julia has developed a taste for intrigue and danger. She longs for "something more important than the embroidering of cushions or the pouring of tea to sustain me." Julia gets her chance for excitement sooner than she expects when her father, the wealthy and influential Earl March, peremptorily summons the siblings home to Bellmont Abbey, the family estate in England. The Earl is furious with Lysander who, without asking permission of his father, has wed a fiery Neapolitan woman named Violante. Since Lysander has very little money of his own, he is dependent on the Earl's financial support to cover his living expenses. If the earl were to cut them off, Ly and his wife would be destitute.

Although Julia is happy to be at home with her family, she dreads seeing Brisbane again. She cannot forget the moment when "we had both of us reached beyond ourselves" and kissed passionately. Unhappily, their relationship never progressed beyond that one feverish encounter, and she has not heard a word from him in five months. However, Julia still cherishes the pendant that he gave her bearing the lovely inscription, "For where thou art, there is the world itself."

Julia and her brothers arrive four weeks before Christmas to find a large group of guests in residence at March House: their saucy and sarcastic sister, Portia; the vicar and his new curate, Lucian Snow; their poor orphaned cousins, Emma and Lucy Phipps; Dorcas, a portly and cranky old aunt; Lucy's much older fiancé, the overbearing Sir Cedric Eastley; Henry Ludlow, Cedric's cousin and secretary; Hortense, the Earl's lady friend and a former courtesan; and most shocking of all, Nicholas Brisbane and his future wife, the lovely widow, Charlotte King. It takes all of Julia's considerable pride, breeding, and restraint to keep from showing her true feelings towards Brisbane's intended: "She was a Fragonard milkmaid, a Botticelli nymph. I hated her instantly."

When one of the Earl's guests is murdered, Julia and Nicholas join forces to find and apprehend the perpetrator. In the course of the novel, people are robbed, bludgeoned and poisoned. The deliciously intricate plot features phantoms, gypsies, and jewel thieves as well as deception, secrets, shocks, and betrayals. Raybourn has come up with the perfect recipe for a Victorian murder mystery: Take one spunky and meddlesome heroine. Add a dark and handsome gentleman with a shadowy past and a tortured soul. Mix in family scandals and a dollop of murder. Sprinkle with a generous portion of witty and acerbic dialogue, and top it all off with an imaginative and unexpected conclusion. Silent in the Sanctuary is a marvel that will have Raybourn's mesmerized readers turning pages well into the night. Miss it at your peril.
  • Amazon readers rating: from 57 reviews
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"Silent in the Grave "

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky JUN 18, 2008)

"To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor."

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Grave is a Victorian mystery set in London and featuring the newly widowed Lady Julia Grey. Julia's thirty-one year old husband, Sir Edward, has collapsed and died, apparently of an inherited heart ailment. Julia is shocked but not overly depressed about Edward's demise, since they had not shared a bed for some time. As the daughter of an earl, Julia has led a sheltered life, with servants at her beck and call and little to challenge or excite her. Her thus far boring existence is about to change, however.

A week after Sir Edward's funeral, a private inquiry agent named Nicholas Brisbane calls upon Lady Julia. It seems that Edward had engaged Brisbane to look into a series of threatening notes sent to him anonymously. Brisbane wants Lady Julia to consider the possibility that Edward may have been murdered. Julia angrily dismisses Brisbane with harsh words, but she eventually comes around to his way of thinking; they both embark on a search for Edward Grey's killer.

What makes Silent in the Grave eminently readable and entertaining is not the mystery itself, which proves to be a bit tepid (most mystery buffs will spot the killer long before Lady Julia). The novel shines because of its unusual and varied characters, sparkling and witty dialogue, and the author's sardonic look at the foibles of the upper classes in Victorian England. Lady Julia is a delightful heroine, who gradually changes from an unworldly and timid mouse into a daring and impulsive woman, willing to take risks to learn the truth. Brisbane is a cipher--a dark-eyed and mysterious stranger with a hidden past and a brooding demeanor. His virility and strength of character intrigue the love-starved Julia. Although she dislikes his rough manners, Julia feels an undeniable romantic attraction to him.

Enhancing the the book's colorful atmosphere are the motley group of servants, including Aquinas, a proud and dignified Italian butler, Morag, Julia's personal maid and a reformed prostitute, and Magda, a tormented gypsy whom Julia employs as her laundress. Other characters of note are Aunt Ursula, also known as the Ghoul, who moves into houses of mourning and often stays for as long as a year, and Fleur, a notorious courtesan and close friend of Nicholas Brisbane.

The author touches on such serious themes such as poverty, adultery, and prejudice, but for the most part, Silent in the Grave is lighthearted, humorous, and breezy fun. Raybourn satirizes the indolence and decadence of over-privileged Londoners with too much money and time on their hands. Such individuals become self-centered, cynical, and shallow. As Julia says of her late husband, "He liked things that came easily to him--his inheritance, money, me." Even Lady Julia, who is down-to-earth in most ways, is not entirely free of class prejudice, proclaiming, "We were charged with taking care of those to whom our money and our blood made us superior." At over five hundred pages, the book is a trifle long, but the story moves along rapidly and ends satisfyingly. After you finish this fine debut novel, you will be eager to read the second installment in the adventures of the enchanting and spirited Lady Julia Grey.
  • Amazon readers rating: from 109 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Silent in the Grave at author's website



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About the Author:

Deanna RaybournDeanna Raybourn grew up in San Antonio, Texas as a sixth-generation Texan. She graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with double majors in English and history.

She taught high school English and history for three years and left education to have a baby and pursue writing full time. Fourteen years later, and many rejections, she signed a three-book deal with Mira for the Lady Julia Grey series.

She lives in Virginia with her husband and daughter.

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