Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey mysteries offer what I like to find in a modern Gothic novel. In Silent on the Moor there is a family secret, an isolated manner, the sound of a tolling bell before a death, and a slowly unfolding mystery. There are less horror elements than romance, but there’s oodles of atmosphere which is what really makes a Gothic novel work. Raybourn also manages to inject some modern sensibility without disrupting this atmosphere.
Lady Julia Grey is a touch scandalous. Until the murder of her husband she acted dutifully and in the interest of her family. Now she’s more interested in seeking what she wants, and she wants Nicholas Brisbane. He invited her sister to help him set his new estate Grimsgrave in order and Julia decides to accompany her uninvited. As any reader of mystery knows, you should always be on your best behavior when a widow shows up uninvited.
I find it easy to sympathize with Julia. She’s accepting, loving, and tenacious. She truly cares for Brisbane and wishes to help both him and the Allenby women who used to own the house. She becomes involved in the mystery not because of cleverness but because she wants to help. Brisbane, while dark and brooding is no Heathcliff, which is a good thing since Heathcliff is a psycho stalker.
The only real issue I have with the novel is the mystery. Raybourn develops a great setting and characters but doesn’t give them much to do. Until someone gets poisoned most of the mystery is simply Brisbane acting oddly. Even after that, it still takes awhile for the questions that are supposed to be solved to take clear form. And quite a few of the answers are rather obvious, even though some of the motivations escaped me until the big reveal.
As for the modern elements, Julia’s sister Portia is involved in an openly stated lesbian relationship and a Gypsy witch is portrayed in a positive light. (I say openly stated as there were circumspect lesbian relations in Gothic novels like Carmilla.) Raybourn adds these elements without giving up all historical accuracy – Portia’s relationship makes her mostly unwelcome in society and there’s a reason why the villagers don’t persecute the Gypsy Rosalie (and why she stays in one place). She simply lets these elements (and others) be part of the story without using them as a chance to soapbox for a contemporary cause.
I enjoyed watching Julia Grey pursue her happily ever after. The haunted Brisbane makes a sensible counterpoint to Julia’s tendency to get involved before she knows the details. The secondary characters are nicely done and you care what happens to many of them as much as you care about the main couple. The central mystery is a bit of a letdown, but the atmosphere was strong enough to keep me from noticing how the mystery was rarely present. (It wasn’t strong enough to keep me from solving most of it.) With many of the secondary relationships left open, I do hope Raybourn will write more about Julia Grey and her family.
This is a wickedly witty Lady Julia Grey mystery. ‘There are things that walk abroad on the moor that should not. But the dead do not always lie quietly, do they, lady?’ It is England, 1888. Grimsgrave Manor is an unhappy house, isolated on the Yorkshire moors, silent and secretive. But secrets cannot be long kept in the face of Lady Julia Grey’s incurable curiosity. In the teeth of protests from her conventional, stuffy brother, Lady Julia decides to pay a visit to the enigmatic detective, Nicholas Brisbane to bring a woman’s touch to his new estate. Grimsgrave is haunted by the ghosts of its past, and its owner seems to be falling into ruin along with the house. Confronted with gypsy warnings and Brisbane’s elusive behaviour, Lady Julia scents a mystery. It’s not long before her desire for answers leads her into danger unlike any other that she has experienced – and from which, this time, there may be no escape.
Read an excerpt.
Other books in the series: