Friday, November 5, 2010
After eight idyllic months in the Mediterranean, Lady Julia Grey and her detective husband are ready to put their investigative talents to work once more. At the urging of Julia's eccentric family, they hurry to India to aid an old friend, the newly widowed Jane Cavendish. Living on the Cavendish tea plantation with the remnants of her husband's family, Jane is consumed with the impending birth of her child—and with discovering the truth about her husband's death. Was he murdered for his estate? And if he was, could Jane and her unborn child be next?
Amid the lush foothills of the Himalayas, dark deeds are buried and malicious thoughts flourish. The Brisbanes uncover secrets and scandal, illicit affairs and twisted legacies. In this remote and exotic place, exploration is perilous and discovery, deadly. The danger is palpable and, if they are not careful, Julia and Nicholas will not live to celebrate their first anniversary.
It was deliciously fun to re-visit with Lady Julia and her new husband, Nicholas Brisbane in this fourth book of the Lady Julia Gray historical mystery series. Although, as much as I love them now as a married couple, that doesn't mean the misunderstandings between them have gone away. Nor has Brisbane ceased his enigmatic brooding. I was pissed off with him in the first part of the book. Brisbane still has his mysterious side, which can make him appear arrogant and unfeeling at times. Until we realize - he's doing it all for a reason - and then we love him for it. Brisbane does nothing without a good reason. It's important to always remember this - I think I've finally learned my lesson and won't forget. O ye of little faith? It's amazing how Raybourn can make me love him and then hate him - and then love him again!
As newlyweds, Julia and Nicholas are both feeling their way through their marriage. Feelings get hurt, passions flair, making up in bed is always nice, but then the cycle repeats again. The basic gist of it is, Julia wants to be a detective like her husband and Brisbane won't let her because it's too dangerous. She pouts, says something flippant. Stiffly proper and well groomed, he storms out, while she stews and waits for him to return. This time, they're abroad, en route to a remote outpost in India with Portia, Julia's sister in tow. Portia is bent on reuniting with her former lesbian lover and soulmate, the now widowed Jane Cavendish, who is due to give birth. Jane's husband, Freddie, died under tragic and mysterious circumstances. Plum, Julia's brother is also with them, acting as protector since Brisbane has remained behind in Calcutta. Another one of the those pesky marital spats. *grr*
After their long journey, when they arrive at Jane's plantation "Peacocks" , they find out their wayward cousins Emma and Lucy Phipps, who we met in Silent in the Sanctuary, are living nearby - small world. We don't see much of Emma, for she is dying of breast cancer, but Lucy plays a larger part in the story. Now, a widow herself, she is nursing her sister and having a clandestine affair with someone in the neighborhood, hoping to remarry after her sister's death. Frankly, I kept thinking there would be more to these two mysterious sisters. Without giving away any spoilers, I don't believe we've seen the last of either of them. I wouldn't be surprised if all is not as it seems. It kept niggling at me, Julia never saw the dead body.
Once at "Peacocks", Julia begins her detecting to find out if Jane's dead husband was murdered or not. There are loads of interesting side characters, the Reverand and his particularly unusual wife and family, a drunken doctor, the handsome Harry Cavendish, cousin of the deceased, the domineering maiden aunt, a mysterious White Rajah who lives in an old monastery nearby - plenty of suspects and intrigue, not to mention danger. There is a man eating tiger that is terrorizing the area, which seemed to scare me more than anything, based on what happened to the drunken doctor's wife. She was mauled by it, enduring an excruciating painful death.
Eventually, Brisbane re-joins them at the plantation and the book, in my opinion, became more interesting in the second half. Maybe it's just because I love him and when he's in the picture - everything is livelier in my eyes. Both he and Julia become a team, albeit he is reluctant to have her join him for he worries about her safety. Still, they make it work. Brisbane's concern for her is truly noble and by the end of the book, his motives are understood, even though earlier on he appears selfish and sulky. All I can say is, he's a brilliant actor! *sorry, I'm being cagey to avoid spoilers*
I enjoyed the mystery surrounding "Peacocks" and how it unraveled - it was a good story! I was completely surprised by certain events, although I did guess correctly about who the leprous old woman was, but not at first. Believe me, for the most part, I was guessing incorrectly throughout (I'd make a terrible detective!) Many of the the side characters were oddly peculiar, yet likable, moreso than in the previous books. The story between Jane and Portia was particularly moving and I get a lump in my throat thinking about it. Yet, the main driving force in the story is how Julia and Brisbane are getting on as man and wife. The fact they are now married only makes the series better, in my opinion. I was worried that the series would lose some of it's fizz, but that's not the case at all. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Are they as humorously entertaining as Amelia and Radcliffe in the Crocodile on the Sandbank series? No, but who could be? Still, Julia and Brisbane have their own particular winning qualities which I find nearly as satisfying.
I believe this was probably my favorite of the series to date. The characterizations and intrigue have more depth to them than in the previous Lady Julia novels. Although it got off to a slow start, the poignancy in the second half made up for it, enhancing the story with it's richness and memorable events. I highly recommend for Victorian historical mystery lovers, this is a great addition to the series.