books

Deanna Raybourn

Books

Lady Julia Gray: Silent in the Grave (2007), Silent in the Sanctuary (2009), Silent on the Moor (2009)

Veronica Speedwell: A Curious Beginning (2015), A Perilous Undertaking (2017)

 

Lady Julia Gray

 

Silent in the Grave (2007)

Silent-in-the-GraveTo say that Silent in the Grave annoyed me would be a vast understatement. This book had tons of high recommendations, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why.

First, the heroine, who is supposed to be intelligent, tends towards sheer idiocy. Sure, she’s well read and knows about art and music, but she hasn’t a lick of sense, and is constantly placing herself into incredibly stupid situations. For example, she thinks gypsies may want to kill her brother. So what does she do? She drags him out to the gypsy encampment. Sheer genius.

Secondly, the “mystery” was pretty transparent. Unusual for me, I knew who the killer was halfway through the book. I didn’t know the reason, but considering all the ridiculous information that was thrown in towards the end, I can’t see how I was supposed to have known. So the biggest “mystery” in the book was how long it was going to take the heroine (and I use that term very loosely) to fall in love with the hero.

Too damned long is the answer.

And to make things worse, her “sudden” attraction to the hero drove me nuts as well. She emphatically repeats in one chapter how she is attracted to thin, blond, dainty men like her husband, and doesn’t like the tall dark hero at all. The in the next chapter “suddenly” remembers that as a child/teen her favorite romantic heroes were tall, dark, muscular, and handsome, and she recalls all the daydreams she had about her literary heroes.

Come on. If she spent that much time day dreaming, how could she have forgotten so quickly and easily?

Thirdly (am I only on three?), it feels like the author wanted to write a “Victorian” mystery without having to go to all the trouble to create an actual Victorian heroine. I don’t care how liberal and “crazy” her family was, the way she continually makes scenes, members of society would have crossed the street to get away from her–and not because she was a widow. I cannot imagine a Victorian heroine–no matter how liberally raised–acting in public as Julia acted.

Fourthly, don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in equality across the board, but a Victorian heroine who was fully accepting of Jews, Gypsies, prostitutes, lesbians, and homosexuals–but completely freaked out about pornography? Not only are her beliefs simply too modern to be accepted, but she wasn’t internally inconsistent. I’m sorry, but if you want to write an historical mystery, you have to follow at least most of the conventions of the time. If you want to write an historical mystery where the heroine has modern views, by all means do so, but label it properly as fantasy.

Fifthly, other than looking mighty fine with his shirt off, and secretly (but obviously) swooning over the heroine, the hero doesn’t do a whole lot in this story, other than allow this repressed (?!) woman to free herself from her “mousy” persona. That and provide something for Julia to drool over and her family to tease her about. Ugh. Never mind the fact that although Julia constantly dwells on Rayburn, when he finally kisses her, the reader is left wondering precisely what happened. Seriously, they step behind a tree, he raises his hand as if to hit her, and then suddenly she back in the carriage? WTF? (And the number of times he physically threatens her? Liberal woman my rear end.)

Sixthly, the concluding chapters suddenly started throwing in all kinds of new information from all OVER the place. We learn about forty thousand new things about her dead husband, none of them good, while one of the characters in the book suddenly does an about face and changes from sweet and angelic to EVIL (and I mean maniacal laugh evil). Sorry, not buying that either. No one has that good of a game face–especially considering the circumstances. And especially since his “rationale” for his EVILNESS is utterly and completely far fetched and comes is completely from out of left field.

Lastly (although I could go on) the book “concludes” (and I use that term loosely as well) leaving the “romantic” element of the story completely unresolved, and blatantly mentioning the next mystery (Coming soon!). I hate this more than you can possibly imagine. It’s one thing to put a chapter or two of the next book after the end of the current book. It’s something else entirely to have the heroine talk about the next book at the end of the final chapter. Listen, if your book is good, your writing strong, and your characters interesting, I will read the next book. Ending one book with a cliff hanger or a teaser for the next just makes me mad.

Did this book have strengths? Certainly. Which is the only reason I kept reading. But these strengths were in no way good enough to overcome the many flaws that I found incredibly irritating. If you want a mystery with strong romantic overtones, check out Tasha Alexander’s And Only to Deceive. That wasn’t my cup of tea either, but at least it was well done.
Rating: 3/10

Wow. I really HATED that first time around.

Re-Read: June 2014

First, a mea culpa. In my memory, I confused this with another book. A book that I found ho-hum at best. I also read this at a time when I was still irritated when someone put romance into my mystery (or fantasy or whatever), and I remembered this as having a lot of romance.

It didn’t, really.

So, I’ve been irritated in my mind with this book for no damned reason at all. Which is too bad, because upon re-reading, I found I quite enjoyed it.

Lady Julia Grey’s husband Edward dies at a dinner party they are giving, and although his death was not completely unexpected (he suffered from a hereditary heart ailment) it was sudden, and a private inquiry agent he had hired believes Edward may have been murdered. But she has no interest, and instead turns to learning how to be a widow.

“I know that you wish to mourn Edward . He was a lovely person and we were all quite fond of him. But the man you buried was not the child you played with. Do not make the mistake of climbing into his grave and forgetting to live the rest of your life.”

Being a widow was an internal and a society process. Society expected widows to wear unrelieved black for a full year, to avoid any social engagements and frivolity, socializing only with their immediate family. Many widows, such as Queen Victoria, spent the remainder of their lives in morning, and many women saw the Queen as someone to be emulated.

As much as I love reading historical mysteries, the constantly remind me how glad I am to live in the future.

Mindful of propriety , I was thickly veiled and I walked purposefully , keeping my head still so that I appeared to look neither right nor left.

But my eyes roved constantly, taking it all in.

Now, Julia may be a lady, but her upbringing was unusual, so she holds many ideas that did exist at the time, but were often considered radical. The book is set in 1886, so some modern ideas aren’t completely unexpected.

And there was a comment which is appropriate to any time period.

Life is too uncertain, my dear. You must seize happiness where you find it.

All-in-all, I’m sorry I confused this book with another, because I quite enjoyed it, and have already started on the sequel.
Rating: 7.5/10

Published by Harlequin MIRA

Silent in the Sanctuary (2009)

9780778324928_TS_smp.inddAfter discovering her husband’s murderer, Lady Julia Gray has gone to Italy to recuperate, living with her brothers, Plum and Lysander, and enjoying the country.

But after her brother Lysander returns home married (much to everyone’s surprise) the three are ordered home by their father, ostensibly to spend Christmas, but more likely for Lysander to show his bride and receive a dressing down (or else lose his allowance).

But the holidays look to be chaotic, with surprise visitors and more.

This is a mystery, so there is a murder, but it occurs more than a third of the way through the book, so I was starting to worry about who would end up dead.

Some of the threads I found to be a little strange–or even ridiculous. (A jewel thief? Really?) But I still enjoyed the period and the characters.

And I was astounded to see the game of sardines played.

the notion of sardines was bandied about, and found to be agreeable to everyone. After another lengthy discussion concerning rules and procedures, it was established we should each play alone.

This was a game my extended family played when I was a child, but whenever I described it to people, they would look at me like I was insane, or had made it up.

And when I read this passage,

start my own business , selling cheap shoes out of a cart for four times what they cost to make. They fell apart the first time they got wet, but no matter.

I immediately thought of “the Sam Vimes “Boots” Theory of Economic Injustice“. So despite the failings of this book, I still quite enjoyed it.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Harlequin MIRA

Silent on the Moor (2009)

9780778326144_TS_prd.inddLady Julia Grey and her sister–against the wishes of both their father and older brother–are headed to Yorkshire, the Grimsgrave estate, where Brisbane has taken up residence and is attempting to rehabilitate the manor.

There is a lot of work ahead of him.

Although I guessed relatively quickly who the “bad guy” was, as well as several other salient points, it didn’t bother me, since the likelihood of Lady Julia guessing these things was very unlikely. After all, despite her eccentricities, she is a lady of her time, and wouldn’t assume the worst.

I also guessed several of the twists, but again it didn’t quite matter since Lady Julia wouldn’t have been likely to guess the depths of human depravity (and although her father railed against it, the dangers of inbreeding weren’t as commonly known).

However, I still find Brisbane irritating, and really don’t get what Lady Julia sees in him. Yes, he doesn’t want to lead her on, since he has no fortune or name to offer her, and their connection would cause her far more harm than any societal rise he might get (which would be somewhat unlikely, considering his heritage).

But that doesn’t mean he had to be such an asshole.

So, I enjoyed the mystery, and was glad to see the romance resolved, so hopefully we won’t have to see Brisbane being a complete jerk in the future.

At least we can hope.

There were plenty of other things to enjoy however, such as her brother’s fascinating with medicine and public health.

Valerius busied himself each day in the village, sitting in the public room of The Hanged Man and attempting to win the villagers’ confidence. When I asked him why, he would only say, “ I have thoughts I wish to share with them regarding public hygiene.”

That and his thoughts on public drains endeared me to him, despite the fact he was a bit of a dolt. But to cut him some slack, it is fascinating how his sister in some ways had an easier time breaking some societal conventions than he did, in his desire to be a doctor.

And this passage amused me.

“If you had mummy babies, would you advertise the fact?”
“But that is precisely the point. If I were the type of person to keep mummy babies lying about, I shouldn’t think I would mind if people actually knew it,” she pointed out.

I can totally see myself saying something like that.
So interesting, although in no way perfect. I still want to read more of the series, so that probably says more than my feelings about specific parts of this story.

Rating: 6.5/10

Published by Mira

 

Veronica Speedwell

 

A Curious Beginning (2015)

Set in London in 1887

This had been on my wishlist for awhile, because although I found her other series vaguely annoying (both not so annoying that I didn’t read multiple books) this seemed right up my alley.

As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

But since I didn’t love her other series, I wasn’t going to pay full price, so when it dropped to $2.99, I snagged it.

I do like Veronica Speedwell.

Expeditions are enormously expensive because they have to cart around everyone’s self-importance. Most of the leaders of these undertakings are dilettantes, gentlemen scientists who insist upon touring in luxury, packing so much silver and linen they might imagine themselves in a London hotel. You are a resourceful man. Are you not familiar with the intrepid lady travelers? Women like Isabella Bird and Marianne North? They managed to go right round the world with little more than what they could fit into a saddlebag. I am persuaded you could travel quite easily with a single bag.

And yes, those are actually female explorers of the time, so: AWESOME!

I should never understand men, I reflected, even if I devoted myself to the study of them as I had lepidoptery. To begin with, I should need a considerably larger net, I decided with a private smile.

Plus, she is in many ways a woman after my own heart.

I think better when I am in motion and things about me are orderly.

One may be elegant or enthusiastic, but seldom both.

I, of course, always aim for elegant.

No?

This was a fun book, and thoroughly enjoyable. There is tension between the two main characters, but no boinking. Yet.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Berkley

A Perilous Undertaking (2017)

Set in London in 1887.

The second Veronica Speedwell mystery finds Veronica and Stoker preparing for an expedition–until their benefactor breaks his leg tripping over his giant tortoise. This leaves both cranky with each other until a new mystery is dropped in their laps.

Veronica is summoned to the Curiosity Club, and there is asked to save Miles Ramsforth from being executed for the murder of a young artist named Artemisia, who was also his mistress.

First off, I ran into a paragraph that sent me right out of the story.

I knew he was thinking of the time his wife nearly cost him his life in Brazil. Caroline. The name pierced me like a lance, but I refused to speak it aloud.

I did not remember reading anything about Stoker talking about his wife Caroline up until that point. I know I read quickly and sometimes scan, but I was pretty sure I’d have paid attention to that, so I actually went and searched both books for “Caroline” “wife” and “Brazil” (yay for ebooks!) and found nothing of Stoker telling Veronica anything about his previous wife.

Was this something that had been edited out of either of the books and references to it were left in? I have no idea, it it still bugs me.

Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. We meet a new character, Lady Wellie, who was delightful.

“In my day, chairs were not for comfort. They were to keep your bottom from touching the floor and that is all. And be glad Cordelia is not here. She is a lovely girl, but she would swoon straightaway if she heard me use the word ‘bottom’ in polite company. It is the greatest advantage of getting old, you know. I can say precisely what I like and everyone excuses it because I knew Moses from his bulrush days.”

There is still the tension between Veronica and Stoker–cranked up all the more because there is a grotto involved in the mystery. One of those built around the time of the Hellfire clubs.

“There is no sociology here,” Stoker corrected, his voice still tight. “These are not phalluses— at least not the sort meant for study.”

I blinked at him. “Whatever do you mean?”

He was blushing furiously. “They are . . . Oh God, I can’t even say the word.”

“What word?”

“Dil— No, I can’t. I can tell you in Greek. These are olisboi. Or if you prefer, in Spanish, consoladores.”

That amused me–not that there would be a room full of phalluses, but that he couldn’t say the word dildo but instead had to switch to Greek.

We also got an interesting view of the judicial system.

“Do you think he is guilty?”

She blinked. “Well, he must be, miss. He’s been found guilty by a proper jury. Those gentlemen would know, wouldn’t they?”

I almost admired her touching faith in the judicial system. “You would think so,” I managed.

It was an interesting mystery, and I enjoyed it but I am still annoyed by the bit where we’re supposed to know more about Stoker’s ex-wife than we do.
Rating: 7.5/10 (dinged for the bit about the wife)

Published by Berkley

 

 

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