Silent in the Grave
Silent in the Grave is the book that introduced readers to Lady Julia Grey. While it has its romantic moments, I wouldn’t say it’s strictly romance. It’s more a historical mystery with strong romantic elements – and rather a good one. The book opens as Lady Julia becomes a widow following events that at the time appeared to be natural, though tragic, circumstances. Fast forward a year later and we see Lady Julia being to emerge from mourning and also to question whether she was a bit hasty in deciding no foul play was involved in her late husband’s death. While readers are still recovering from the whiplash of seeing the plot action jump forward in time so abruptly, Julia decides to seek the assistance of her husband’s associate, Nicholas Brisbane.
What follows sees Julia and Nicholas joining forces to get to the bottom of mysterious events that caused Julia’s husband great apprehension shortly before his death. The detecting lags at points, but overall the tension gradually builds and pulls the reader through the story. We learn that while Julia had married a childhood friend, their marriage was not quite as sweet as the memories of their friendship. In addition, readers get to walk alongside Julia as she discovers the secrets not only of her husband’s life, but also of her entire household – revelations that understandably make her question how she will relate to not only her family members but also the staff in her home. It’s page-turning stuff.
The plot action in this book, particularly in the first half, unfolds rather quietly. This works quite well because readers get to see Julia growing into herself as a person and her character arc is at least as interesting as the mystery itself. Raybourn does a good job of showing the quirks of Julia’s family members as well as the intricacies of their relationships with one another. Julia comes from a large family, so there’s plenty of material to work with here.
One thing I love about this book is the self-awareness of the heroine. We quickly figure out that the Marches (Julia’s family) are an eccentric lot and Nicholas Brisbane is a most unusual hero himself. However, these folks all know that they’re not right in the middle of mainstream Victorian society. Many of the Marches are fairly radical in their beliefs and practices, but they realize that they’re unusual. Lady Julia is no curl tossing, “I’m never going to marry – just because!” type of heroine. Instead she has a fairly mature sense of who she is and learns how she can be herself within the bounds of the society in which she lives. There’s a tension there at times, but this characterization also shows the reader some of Julia’s intelligence. When we see a heroine behaving intelligently, we can believe the hero when he recognizes that quality in her.
While I did like Nicholas, he felt a bit more two-dimensional than Julia. As a character, he’s just a bit too much at times. He’s a brilliant detective, suffers from migraines (for reasons which will probably prompt some eye-rolling when revealed), moves comfortably both in and out of high society, is a proficient boxer, leaps tall buildings in a single bound, and so on. Oh, and he’s gorgeous. We mustn’t neglect noticing that, because Julia surely doesn’t. Nicholas isn’t bad as heroes go; he just seemed more like distant fantasy material than Julia. After trying to puzzle through why this is, I think the changes Julia moves through as a character compared to the more fixed nature of Nicholas in this book gives the impression.
Silent in the Grave has its rougher spots, but the vivid quality of Raybourn’s writing is apparent here. I prefer her later books, but her debut novel is a cut above many books I’ve read – and it marked the start of a very good series.