I have finished the 87th book for the book challenge. It was Silent In The Grave: A Lady Julia Grey Novel by Deanna Raybourne.
Lady Julia Grey lives in late Victorian England. We meet her just as her husband Sir Edward has died suddenly at their home during a dinner party. Sir Edward was in ill health but his death was quite sudden. They had not been close during their five year marriage but Lady Julia goes into mourning, as a proper Victorian lady does. She has a large extended family, the prominent March family, to help her through her grief.
There are many characters involved in the novel. Lady Julia comes from a family of ten children and an eccentric father, Earl March. Her brother Valerius who stays with her in Grey House has won a raven in a card game. The problem is that the raven is the property of the Queen and was stolen from her by one of his friends. The raven is now ensconced in Grey House and no one knows how to return it to the Queen. Lady Julia’s sister Portia, also a widow, causes scandal to the family when she takes a lover, who happens to be another woman. An elderly aunt, affectionately nicknamed The Ghoul, moves into Grey House to “help” Lady Julia during her mourning period. Even the servants are interesting. There is Magda, the Gypsy laundress. Lady Julia’s maid, Morag, is surly and does only what she wants to do. The butler Aquinas speaks fluent Italian and was an acrobat. He also has an uncanny ability to anticipate Lady Julia’s wishes. And then there is the lovely courtesan Hortense Bellefleur, a friend of Nicholas Brisbane, who becomes a confidant of Lady Julia and a special friend of Earl March.
She receives a visit from the inquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane, who was at her home the night Sir Edward died. He suggests to her that Sir Edward’s death might not have been natural. He tells her that Edward had received threatening letters before he died and he had shown these to Brisbane. Lady Julia decides that she wants to pursue this line of inquiry. She searches Grey House and in Edward’s desk she finds one of the letters stuck in a drawer. It contains a part of a psalm cut from a psalter. Lady Julia takes this to Brisbane and they are off on their search. Lady Julia searches all the rooms in Grey House, even the servants’ rooms, to see if she can find where the cut words come from. She does find a box of arsenic in the laundress Magda’s room. She fears Magda plans to use this on Lady Julia’s brother Valerius.
In her search, Lady Julia comes across her own childhood psalter. She finds that this is the book that was used to cut the passages that were used in the threatening letters. But who could have done it? It must have been one of the staff. Lady Julia is also nursing Sir Edward’s cousin Sir Simon who has a weak heart and who is dying. He is staying at Grey House. The young footman Desmond is tending to him.
Lady Julia is spending more and more time with Brisbane. But then he send word that he is ill and cannot see her. She brings a fruit basket to him and finds him in a terrible state. He is delirious. Lady Julia is shocked. Brisbane is not himself for nearly a month. Then he asks to meet Lady Julia at Madame Bellefleur’s home. Fleur is nursing him back to health. Fleur was his mistress long ago in France. She takes to Lady Julia and gives her pots of her rosy salve. Fleur tells Lady Julia that Brisbane suffers from migraine headaches because he has visions. He has second sight. That causes his migraines and makes him sick. He has been having visions about danger coming to Lady Julia.
Lady Julia cleans out Sir Edward’s room. She gives a pair of candlesticks and a porcelain box to Magda, who then joins her Gypsy relatives at their camp. Brisbane learns that Sir Edward frequented a brothel. This brothel gave its customers a porcelain box. It was the box that Lady Julia gave to Magda. Brisbane goes to get it back at the Gypsy camp. Lady Julia and Val also travel to the Gypsy camp in disguise to get the box and to try to protect Brisbane. There they see Brisbane and realize that he is a Gypsy when they see him fighting another Gypsy and speaking Roma. Brisbane kisses Lady Julia fiercely at the Gypsy camp.
Lady Julia meets with the woman who prepared Sir Edward’s body for burial. From her she learns that his penis was discolored. Brisbane’s doctor surmises that poison was introduced into his system through a condom. The porcelain box was used to hold condoms. Brisbane and Lady Julia both interview prostitutes from the brothel. Lady Julia learns that Sir Edward had syphilis. This is why he moved into his own bedroom. She also learned that he preferred men.
After more investigation, Lady Julia finds that Sir Edward had an affair with the footman Desmond. It was Desmond who wrote the threatening notes when Edward did not send for him for a long time. She then learns that Desmond and Edward had been together the evening that Edward died. She looks around Edward’s room. Her gaze falls on a sketch in a frame on the wall. And she knows who the murderer is. She knows who put the poison in the condom.
And I’m not telling. The end of the mystery is quite exciting as Lady Julia confronts the murderer in Grey House. Brisbane has seen the confrontation with his second sight and is racing to save her. He is bringing her father with him. In the melée, Grey House is destroyed and Lady Julia and Brisbane nearly lose their lives.
Lady Julia is a proper Victorian lady, but she is willing to go against traditions and mores on occasion. She is fearless. She is strangely drawn to Brisbane and he is drawn to her. You wonder if these two have a future together. You hope so.