When her brother Lysander marries an Italian, Lady Julia Grey and her brothers are summoned back to the family home, a gigantic former abbey, for Christmas and for a scolding. The house party, however, consists of not just the large and eccentric family but some unexpected houseguests, including Nicholas Brisbane, who is in line for a title and with his fiancee, a silly widow, in tow. That isn’t the only shock going at Bellmont Abbey, though, when a body is found in the sanctuary and Julia’s priceless Grey pearls go missing. Reluctantly teamed up again, Julia and Brisbane must out the culprit and figure out who is behind the crimes.
I was so excited for this book and it didn’t disappoint at all! I just love when that happens. The plot may have taken a good 100 or so pages to get going, but I didn’t care, I loved this from the first word. The scene was carefully set before the murder occurred and I think the book would have suffered without that. The plot of this book is more complicated than in the first, but I didn’t find it any harder to understand by the end, though I’m sure more clues would reveal themselves on a reread. I did find myself reading much faster after the murder because I wanted to know what happened, but it was the difference between savoring Raybourn’s writing and desperately wanting to know how it all came out.
I also love the further development of the characters. Julia is an even sassier heroine than before. She’s come into her own and embraced her March background, firmly declaring herself her own woman. Brisbane is, if possible, even more of a mystery the more we learn about him. He’s an enigmatic, fascinating man, and it’s so easy to see why Julia is obsessed with him. I’m not into dangerous men, but I can see the appeal in this guy, and I think Julia’s infatuation is more on a level I can understand than, say, Bella’s was in Twilight. Also, this is a bit of a sidenote, but I adore the fact that these characters read! Raybourn mentions a stack of books on Brisbane’s nightstand and Julia reads herself to sleep on at least one occasion that I can remember.
Finally, I adore the atmosphere in this book. The prose is still gorgeous and clever and witty. I like the immediate contrast between sunny Italy and wintry England. I love Bellmont Abbey; as much as I deplore the dissolution of monasteries, the existence of these former religious buildings turned houses is fascinating, and such a conversion is much better than letting them go to ruin. I felt as though I could walk the halls of the abbey, see the ghost, feel the drafts, and just in general live in this novel for a little while. As soon as I finished, I wanted to go back and live in it a little longer. I can’t wait to read Silent on the Moor (a book like this set in my favorite part of England? Yay!) and am currently berating myself for having library books to get to before I can read it.
As you can probably tell, I loved this book. I really can’t stop gushing about it. If you love historical fiction, if you love mysteries, if you just love a good book, you should read this. Start with Silent in the Grave, but then buy this one on Amazon.
(I will be honest, about the only thing I don’t like about my copy of this book is its cover. Keith thought it was okay, but I really did not like it and think it gave the wrong impression, as do the romance novel covers that grace the current US versions. What do you think?)