Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This is the second in the Lady Julia Grey series - you can find my review of the first in the series, Silent in the Grave, here.
If you're sensitive about synopsis-based spoilers, some will be popping up any second now. Look away...now!
"There is a dead man stinking in the game larder. I hardly think a few missing pearls will be the ruin of this house party." Lady Julia Grey's eccentric family and friends have gathered to keep Christmas in Bellmont Abbey. But when Lady Julia notices the enigmatic detective Nicholas Brisbane in the party, she is less than delighted - trouble is sure to follow. Her prediction is proved correct when festivities are brought to an abrupt halt by a murder in the chapel. Blood dripping from her hands, Lady Julia's cousin claims the ancient right of sanctuary. Forced to resume her deliciously intriguing partnership with Brisbane, Lady Julia is intent on proving her cousin's innocence.
Still, the truth is rarely pure and never simple...
When I read the first in this series, I liked it but didn't love it. Since everyone else does seem to love it, though, when I found the second instalment tucked away in the Mystery section of my local library, I decided to give it another go. I imagine that it being sat in the Mystery section causes a lot of disappointment. This is not a great mystery. More specifically, the first half of the book isn't any kind of mystery. That's in no way a criticism because what it is is fantastic historical fiction.
One of Raybourn's major talents is clearly creating characters that are easy to love and fun to spend time with. As this is the second in the series, there's that feeling of familiarity right from the first few pages and it quickly becomes apparent that none of the characters' strengths have diminished. Lady Julia is still wonderfully eccentric - I didn't really appreciate her in the first book because she was a bit too reckless for my liking. This time around, she seemed to be a lot...calmer. The more I think about it, the more I like to think that this is intentional. Silent in the Grave has her looking to avenge her late husband's murder; Silent in the Sanctuary sees her a little more settled in her own skin and using her fledgling detective skills to investigate something not so close to home. It stands to reason that she'd be more considered and less erratic in her choices. She's also a lot stronger around Nicholas Brisbane and I loved her for keeping the delicious man on his toes.
The rest of the Lady Julia's family are as rich and colourful. It makes absolute sense that the first half of the book is spent focussing on them and developing them. Even through the bitterest exchanges and most acerbic banter, there's a warmth that's almost impossible not to smile at and it sets a solid base for the rest of the series. The resolution of the mystery (when it finally comes along...) even manages to be kind of endearing. There are some gruesome(ish) moments, some darkness and some twists but mostly there's a Christmas jauntiness to proceedings that helps take the edge off. For a book that's nearly 600 pages, the plot does bumble along at a fairly slow pace but the people and story are so much fun that I just didn't care.
The only downside is the occasional excess of Lady Julia-Brisbane tension. Their barbed exchanges and witty frankness, I like. Their refusal to be honest or considerate with each other, I don't like as much (even though I would reluctantly admit that it's sort in character for both!). Still, I suppose that this is but one novel out of five so far and it would actually be disappointing if all the characters did end up right where I wanted them so early on.
Overall: If you're in the mood for some feisty and entertaining historical fiction, this story is an accomplished follow-up to Silent in the Grave. If you haven't yet read the first instalment, get hold of a copy so that you'll be all caught up and ready to love Silent in the Sanctuary with all of its snow, mischief and tinsel at the perfect time.
Date finished: 09 June 2012
Source: Borrowed from my local library
Genre: Mystery; Historical fiction
Published: by Mira Books in December 2008