Sunday 7 August 2011

CBR3 Book 57: "The Dark Enquiry" by Deanna Raybourn

Publisher: Mira
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: July 23rd, 2011
Date finished: July 24th, 2011

This is the fifth book in a series, and the review may contain spoilers for earlier books in the series. Standard advice on skipping this if you're worried about such things. The first book in the series is Silent in the Grave, if you're interested in starting at the beginning.

After an extended honeymoon, Lady Julia and her husband, the Private Enquiry Agent Brisbane, are back in London, trying to establish a joint household. Brisbane has finally had to reluctantly agree that Julia can join him in his investigations, he also employs her brother Plum. Julia's most recent hobby of trying to replicate a type of gunpowder is driving Brisbane's housekeeper to distraction (because she keeps blowing things up), but all in all, they are finding some semblance of domestic bliss.

Julia discovers that her older brother, Lord Bellmont, a very proper member of parliament for the Conservatives, has consulted Brisbane about a matter, and is shocked when she realizes that the case could harm not just her brother's reputation, but could affect the whole government. A spiritual medium has been murdered, and the case may be connected not just to blackmail, but international espionage.

The Lady Julia books by Deanna Raybourn are very similar to Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily books, both featuring Victorian noblewomen who solve murder mysteries. But while Tasha Alexander's latest book was a great disappointment, Raybourn continues to entertain and amuse. While both series have a couple arguing over the role the woman partner should take in dangerous murder investigations, Julia and Brisbane deal with the issues in a more constructive and entertaining way. Raybourn depicts both the not always peaceful home life of her characters, as well as the challenges they face trying to work together.

The supporting cast of characters, chiefly Lady Julia's large and colourful family, is one of the reasons the books are so delightful. Her eccentric father, her sister Portia, now trying to raise a child, her many different brothers. The banter between Lady Julia and Brisbane, or between her and her family is wonderful. It's perfectly clear why Brisbane wants to keep her far away from danger, but also understandable why Lady Julia refuses to sit at home, being a quiet housekeeper. While they have their disagreements, they also communicate in a satisfying way, so that this book, which deals with many of the same issues as Dangerous to Know makes me eager for the next Raybourn novel (when Julia and Brisbane go to Rome), while I'm very dubious about the next Tasha Alexander book.

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