Friday, 19 March 2010

CBR 36: "The Dead Travel Fast" by Deanna Raybourn

Publisher: Mira
Page count: 400 pages
Date begun: March 17th, 2010
Date finished: March 18th, 2010

I absolutely adore Deanna Raybourn's three previous books: Silent in the Grave, Silent in the Sanctuary and Silent on the Moor. They are Victorian mystery novels with a romantic subplot, and delight me immensely. So when I heard that Raybourn had a completely stand-alone book out, inspired by Gothic novels and set in Transylvania, I had to put it on my pre-order list immediately.

The book arrived about a week back, and I'm assuming the big-busted lady on the cover is supposed to be the heroine, Theodora. When her grandfather dies, Theodora Lestrange saves her brother-in-law the trouble of having to decide what to do with his spinster, authoress sister-in-law by declaring that she will travel to Transylvania, to attend the wedding of her old school-friend Cosmina. Theodora has written some mystery stories and made a bit of money, and is sure that the evocative surroundings of her friend's exotic home will be the perfect place to write her full-length novel. She ignores the protests of her sister, brother-in-law and publisher/would-be fiance, packs up her meager belongings, and leaves Edinburgh to set off on her adventure.

Theodora's friend Cosmina is a poor relative of the Draculescu family, and was sent to school in Germany by her kindly aunt. Once Theodora arrives in Transylvania, she discovers that the Draculescus live in an imposing castle, towering on an inaccessible cliff. She is welcomed by an overjoyed Cosmina, the sickly, but benevolent Dowager Countess and the Count Dragulescu himself, Cosmina's intended. Theodora is instantly drawn to the handsome and imperious Count, but tries to ignore her attraction, as he is to be married to her friend. She is determined she will only observe him to use him to model a character in her novel. But when it is revealed, shortly after her arrival that the Count and Cosmina are not getting married after all, Theodora has a difficult time staying away from him.

Transylvania is a place full of ghost stories and superstitions. It is believed that several of the men of the village run off and become wolves in the woods around the full moon. There are whispered rumours about strigoi, or vampires, who haunt the Draculescu castle. Theodora is a practical and pragmatic person, who at first refuses to believe in the stories, but when a maid servant is found in the castle, with puncture wounds on her breast, apparently drained of blood, events start to take a more sinister turn, and it becomes more difficult for her to disbelieve the fantastic tales. The Count is mysterious, pale, brooding and mostly nocturnal. Could he really be a vampire?

While The Dead Travel Fast was an enjoyable read, it did not quite live up to the expectations I had, created because of the excellence of Raybourn's previous three novels. It was nice to read a self-contained story, though, which comes to a definite end - no pesky year-long waits for sequels. Theodora is a good protagonist, well-educated thanks to her scholar grandfather, determined to make her own way in the world with her writing, yet not anachronistically free-spirited or forward-thinking for her time, as is sometimes the case with historical heroines.

The book is told in first person, meaning we never get to see Andrei (the Count), or any of the other characters' points of view. It helps keep the events more mysterious and suspenseful, but does mean the reader does not really get a very good insight into why Andrei should be so very attractive to Theodora, or why we should care about whether she will end up with him in the end, unsuitably matched though they may be. I didn't dislike the book, and think it's nice when author's occasionally try to go different ways in their writing, but would like Ms. Raybourn to hurry up and write/publish the fourth Lady Julia/Brisbane book soon, now, please.

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