"To say 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..."
For Lady Julia Grey, her husband's sudden death at a dinner party is extremely inconvenient. However, things take a turn for the worse when inscrutable private investigator Nicholas Brisbane reveals that the death was not due to natural causes. Drawn away from her comfortable, conventional life, Julia is exposed to threatening notes, secret societies and gypsy curses, not to mention Nicholas' charismatic unpredictability.
I've been meaning to start this series fora long time. When the fifth in the series, The Dark Enquiry, came out in June last year, praise for Lady Julia Grey was flying around everywhere. I did a poor job of resisting temptation and bought the first in the series not long after. Then my mum came to visit and absconded with it so it was a few months before I actually got down to reading it. When I finally did, I was really looking forward to it. Happily, I did enjoy it, even though it wasn't quite as much as I thought I would. I was in the mood for some good historical fiction and, for the most part, that's what I got. I would have preferred it if that's all I had got. There were one or two supernatural twists that I guess are to set up the rest of the series but that I'm by no means sure fit with this instalment. I'm perfectly happy to hold up my hands and admit that I might be being picky but this book would have worked as well (if not better) without the mysticism.
I suppose it is a testament to how much paranormal/steampunk books I've been reading of late that I kept expecting vampire/automaton to jump out from behind a chaise longue every time the tension ratcheted up. That obviously isn't a criticism of the book but it is a reminder that I could do with indulging in some "pure" historical fiction for a little while!
Sorry, back to the review: Lady Julia Grey was a character I expected to love. For reasons I can't quite place, my feelings were more lukewarm. Along with many other readers, I admired her for her lack of reticence and for delivering more than would usually be expected of women of her era. That said, there were times when she was so gung-ho that she was just thoughtless and I found myself a bit annoyed on occasion. There's having your own opinions and then there's a complete and utter refusal to listen to others' advice or expressions of concern for the welfare of those they care about; treading the fine line between independence and obstinacy is Lady Julia Grey.
Nicholas Brisbane is our Lady's enigmatic private investigator of choice. He's charming in that brusque and mysterious kind of way that is apparently attractive these days. Brisbane and Lady Julia's interaction is sparky and witty. I was a big fan of how their relationship developed and am so glad that Ms Raybourn dodged the obvious and kept it natural. Worried about InstaLove? Don't be. This is one book in which the characters make and sustain proper relationships, without the need to swoon all over the place at the very sight of an appropriate male.
There's also an assortment of eccentric family members and curious household staff to fill up the character quota and I'm hoping to see more of them as the series goes on.
In terms of plot, earlier moan about supernatural aside, there's a lot going for this one. There's the right balance between rousting about the streets of London and mulling over clues and facts so that I was never bored (a curse that blighted me earlier this year with one particular book) and always eager to read more. On more than one occasion, I thought I knew where everything was heading and settled down to watch it unfurl. I was wrong every time. That is to say, whatever else it may or may not be, this book certainly isn't predictable. There's plenty going on, which means plenty of red herrings. There's a rapid unveiling of a whole host of secrets (some more risqué than others) in the final third of the book which lifts the pace and delivers a pretty satisfying conclusion.
So not all of it was perfect but I enjoyed it and I guess that's the main thing.
Overall: A solid start to a series that I know I'll read more of. I would recommend it to fans of historical fiction but would hesitate before handing it over to more die-hard mystery fans. Worth your time if you happen across a copy, certainly!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Date finished: 14 December 2011 Format: Paperback Source: Bought Genre: Mystery; Historical fiction Published: by Mira Books in December 2007