Silent in the Grave begins as a Victorian domestic drama seasoned with a few mystery elements and a dash of social comedy. It gradually builds into a Gothic thriller complete with a brooding, Byronic hero and a heroine whose innocence is slowly stripped away.
Lady Julia Grey, born into a family famous for its adventurers and eccentrics, has convinced herself she wants nothing more than a life of placid domesticity. Her relief at her husband’s death forces her to face facts: Her marriage was unhappy, and she has lost her sense of who she is. The revelation that her husband may have been murdered awakens her latent sense of adventure and launches her on a journey of self discovery.
Julia’s investigative partner, Nicholas Brisbane, who has dark secrets of his own, guides Julia in her search for a killer. Julia soon discovers unsettling truths about her own servants, her younger brother and, finally, the man she married.
The plot built slowly but steadily and became more and more absorbing with each page turned. I read the final two-thirds of the book in two days. With Julia, I explored shadowy worlds far removed from proper Victorian society as she visited a notorious courtesan, searched a gypsy camp and questioned a prostitute.
I figured out the murderer’s identity about halfway through the book, but I got the motive completely wrong and was surprised by many of the book’s twists.
Author Deanna Raybourn skillfully contrasted Victorian respectability with dark desires lurking beneath the surface. I was impressed by her controlled, atmospheric writing and deft handling of the plot, as well as her skill at creating engaging, fully realized characters. Lady Julia Grey already feels like an old friend, and I plan to accompany her on her next adventure, in Silent in the Sanctuary, soon. My grade: A-.