Sunday, November 1, 2009
Fresh from a six-month sojourn in Italy, Lady Julia returns home to Sussex to find her father's estate crowded with family and friends. Much to her surprise, the one man she had hoped to forget -”the enigmatic and compelling Nicholas Brisbane -”is among her father's houseguests - and he is not alone. Not to be outdone, Julia shows him that two can play at flirtation and promptly introduces him to her devoted, younger, titled Italian count.
But the homecoming celebrations quickly take a ghastly turn when one of the guests is found brutally murdered in the chapel. Lady Julia resumes her unlikely and deliciously intriguing partnership with Nicholas Brisbane, setting out to unravel a tangle of deceit before the killer can strike again.
I'm really liking these Julia Grey mysteries! Of course, it doesn't hurt that I am very intrigued and falling not a little in love with Nicholas Brisbane! Half Roma, half Scottish, he has a mysteriousness about him, and we find out a little more about his past. This time, Nicholas has his arm in a sling, due to a heroic act involving Julia's father that she's not supposed to know about. It does not take away from his sex appeal nor does it prevent him from acting the sleuth.
The story opens as Lady Julia prepares to return to England for the Christmas holidays after a prolonged holiday in Italy. She plans to stay at her father's Abbey, an estate in the country. She brings with her, her two brothers, Lysander who has just married a fiery Italian beauty, and Plum, her artistic and philandering brother. In addition, they have brought a guest with them, a young Italian count, Alessandro, who has made it plain that he is "interested" in Lady Julia. She is flattered, but not exactly bowled over by him. Still, it makes it interesting when they return to her father's home in the country and Brisbane is there! A little competition doesn't hurt! Neither one has expected to see the other, and thank goodness Lady Julia has her Italian count because Brisbane has a fiancee! Eek! I loved Julia's instant hate for Mrs. King (the fiancee) and thankfully, we soon learn that Brisbane doesn't seem to be all that enamoured of her. The engagement appears to be a sham, but we don't know why. Mrs. King is a flighty snob who eventually breaks her engagement with Brisbane and developes a tendre for Julia's brother, Plum.
We are introduced and reacquainted with many characters from the previous book. Morag, Julia's Scottish maid, sister Portia (who I liked more in this book, she wasn't as flighty), Aquinas, Julia's ever efficient butler and Julia's father and his new lady love, Fleur, from the last book. In addition, there are some new faces, Julia's poor relations, Emma and younger sister, Lucy and Lucy's new moneyed fiance, Sir Cedrick as well as Aunt Dorcas, Julia's cantankerous great-aunt. There is also a handsome young vicar, Mr. Snow, who seems more of rogue than a clergyman and of course, Mrs. King, Brisbane's fiancee.
Before long, we get into the thick of the story - a murder. It seems that Julia's cousin, the soon-to-be-married Lucy has murdered the nefarious clerygyman in the sanctuary of the chapel. She is dazed and incoherent - did she murder him or not? If not, who really did - and who tried to poison her and her sister with brandy later on? In addition, is there a ghost that is roaming the halls of the Abbey? Not only that - is there a jewel thief in their midst? While snowed in and isolated from the rest of the world, Julia and Nicholas are on the case. Not only does their relationship deepen, but so does the plot. There are all sorts of revelations and a delicious nod to the Gothic Novel. Ghosts, gypsies fortune tellers, stolen kisses and even a bevy of puppies and kittens abound!
I really enjoyed this book, listening to it whenever I could. The narrator was a bit better in this one, though I wasn't crazy about her voice for Nicholas. Once again, I learned more about the Roma/Gypsies during the Victorian period and the prejudices of those "in trade" versus those who are not. I also enjoyed the background of the March family (Julia's family) and the references to "mad as a March hare" that were around the Abbey as well as the descriptions of the Abbey itself and the furniture, the rugs, clothing, the styles, the jewelry - you name it, I was swept up into the Victorian era.
Not only that, I heartily enjoyed Julia's catty thoughts and fake smiles and thinly veiled put downs towards Mrs. King. But, the Brisbane/Julia relationship is what is my real love of this series and I especially enjoyed how they became closer in this book, smoking hashish in his rooms while discussing the case and of course, their impromptu and passionate kiss. Julia has come to terms with her feelings for Nicholas, but he cannot comes to terms with his own for her yet. I am ever hopeful that Julia will get him to admit his feeling for her once and for all - if only his stupid pride wouldn't get in the way. He says he will never marry a woman of fortune. I don't think that's going to stop her, though. She wants him, but he's not ready to be caught - yet.
The mystery itself in the book was very good, though the conclusion was a bit drawn out so that it seemed a little anti-climatic to me once we find out the truth of it. I did not guess it, but then, I'm not really good at guessing who the villain is in mysteries. There is still a dangling thread to worry about too - I wonder if it will come up again in one of the future books yet to be written.
Speaking of future books, it's on to the next in the series to find out just how far Lady Julia will go to get her man!