Title: Silent in the Grave (the first Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane novel)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Mira Books 
No. of Pages: 511
I’m going to get this out of the way up front. I wouldn’t have finished this book if I hadn’t promised to lead a discussion about it for the online book club Oz Mystery Readers. I found it excruciatingly dull, cliché ridden and utterly devoid of suspense. So if you don’t want read a disgruntled rant you might want to stop now.
Plot synopsis: In London in 1886 Lady Julia Grey’s husband dies of what is presumed to be a pre-existing condition. When a mysterious gentleman, Nicholas Brisbane, tells Lady Julia that her husband may have been murdered she scoffs. Twelve months later she finds a scrap of evidence to support his claim and makes contact. Together they investigate, amidst scads of sexual tension and the occasional stop to be kind to the poor.
I’m quite partial to historical fiction but I think the writing of it is deceptively difficult. Raybourn has actually done a decent job of depicting the world of wealth in the Victorian era but she’s given far too much of a modern sensibility to her characters for them to be credible for me. The entire Grey family (minus one token Tory) are radically liberal and totally accepting of society’s misfits and all the things that would have been considered highly immoral at the time. The rest of the minor players (we’ll talk about Nicholas in a minute) are either worthy stereotypes (warm-hearted prostitutes, hard-working widowed char ladies and misunderstood but honest gypsies etc) or vaguely unsavoury n’er do wells. All of which I might have been able to swallow if it weren’t for the fact that the whole thing was so very serious. Whereas Rhys Bowen or Elizabeth Peters write their respective historical fiction containing unbelievably free-spirited female heroines with their tongues firmly in their cheeks, Raybourn seems to treat the whole thing as Important Work (capitalisation deliberate) because there’s not a jot of humour in the 511 pages. The damn book even has its own ‘graceful and elegant’ font reflective of Lady Julia. Groan.
Relatively speaking Lady Julia is an OK character. I didn’t like her or find her particularly credible but when compared to Nicholas Brisbane she’s fascinatingly unique. Because Brisbane is Sherlock Holmes under an assumed name. He’s got a mysterious background, is dark and brooding, has a problem with drugs and a faithful confidante. Heck he even plays the violin. He’s good at everything he tries (from boxing to music) and annoyingly protective of Lady Julia (remember that sexual tension). And he’s a crashing bore.
While I found the book overdid the romantic element of ‘romantic suspense’ it under-cooked the suspense. Not only was the killer evident from very early on (primarily due to the complete and total absence of red-herrings) but many of the minor threads were blindingly obvious to0. One of the (many) problems stemming from Raybourn’s choice to make everyone so wonderfully liberal is that it took the element of surprise away from the supposed twists. I can’t write what I want to write without giving away spoilers so I will just say that I felt like an older child who’s been dragged along to the Christmas Pantomime with a younger sibling, and all the fun of yelling “lookout he’s behind you” to the hapless actor has long worn off.
It took me a long week to plough through every tiresome, melodramatic moment of this book. I won’t be looking for the next two books in the series and I shan’t be hurrying to volunteer to lead any book discussions in the foreseeable future.
My rating 1/5
Most people enjoyed this way more than I did and below are links to reviews at various other places