«Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.
These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.
Prepared to accept that Edward's death was due to a longstanding physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth.
Determined to bring her husband's murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward's demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.»
While throwing a dinner party for a few guests, Lady Julia Grey sees her husband collapse at her feet. Though still a young man, no one is particularly shocked to see him die a couple of hours later, due to a chronic family infirmity that had always plagued him. Trouble begins when she receives a surprise visit from Sir Nicholas Brisbane, who was apparently working for her deceased husband as an investigator, trying to discover who was sending him death threats. Lady Julia cannot believe that someone had anything against her husband, London's society sweetheart could not have been murdered, as Sir Nicholas suggests. But one day while finally cleaning out her husband's study she's horrified to find, hidden within his desk, one of the mentioned death threats. So Lady Julia concludes that maybe Sir Nicholas wasn't entirely wrong, maybe there was indeed someone who wanted to murder Sir Edward Grey. Who could it be? And why?
This book grabbed me right from the first sentence, "To say I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.". What a magnificent way to start a mystery book, I thought, but the problem was the rest of the story didn't live up to that very first sentence. Lady Julia comes from a liberal family, her mother died when she was a young girl and her father believes in giving women their independence. While her sister's are all interesting and distinct characters, especially Portia, one of the best secondary characters I've met in a while, a woman who has the courage to expose to the world that she is gay and lives with another woman. Lady Julia, our heroine comes out as plain, uninteresting, too innocent almost to the extreme of stupidity, while the author tries to tell us she's an independent and intelligent young woman, no one as intelligent as she was described would let herself be drugged on purpose or ask her butler's permission to search her own house.
If Lady Julia left me indifferent, Sir Nicholas was quite the opposite, I took an immediate dislike to his character, he seemed cold and arrogant, and while those characteristics can be attractive on certain heroes, this wasn't the case. To me, the author tried too hard to make him mysterious, to give him that dark aura that is sometimes seductive, at times I thought I was looking at a cheap copy of Sherlock Holmes, he even plays the violin for Pete's sake. Oh and that "secret" thing was a tiny bit overboard, not very realistic and completely out of place.
The mystery was mildly interesting, though it takes second place to Lady Julia's life, thoughts, doubts, problems, maybe if she did something instead of just roaming around playing dress up, we could have a better story. Even the resolution was anticlimactic, I was expecting a family secret, someone wanting the family's money and murdering everyone for it, I don't know, something that made it worthwhile reading 600 pages for, I'm sorry to say that was a poor excuse for a villain.
I've heard the second book is a lot better and I'll probably give it a try, but I sure hope it has a lot more scenes with Portia and the crow or I'll be very disappointed! :-P This was my first book read for the Victorian Challenge, still two more to review and three others to read. I'd better get to it!
Review also published here.