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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Silent on the Moor, by Deanna Raybourn (trade, $13.95)

Continuing the tale begun in Silent in the Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary, Raybourn takes her main character, enlightened widow Lady Julia Grey, and plops her in the Yorkshire moors in this latest episode. Set in the late 1800s, Julia has found that life is better if she can be with the man she loves, Nicholas Brisbane, and can solve mysteries by his side.

Half-Gypsy, half-aristocrat, Brisbane is the tortured, intense hero who came to Julia's rescue when her husband was murdered in the first book of the series. He and Julia subsequently began their courtship dance, which at times had them spinning rapidly away from each other. After one such separation, Julia decides that enough is enough. She will journey to the Yorkshire moors where Brisbane has ensconced himself in a derelict, forbidding estate, and demand a clarification of their relationship.

If only it were that simple.

What Julia, her eccentric sister Portia, and eccentric brother Valerius discover is an odd household composed primarily of the prior inhabitants. The Allenbys and their staff are still in residence, whereas Brisbane spends his time haunting the moors, looking for lost sheep, he says. The prior master of the house collapsed and died from complications of malaria, a disease caught in the course of his global explorations. He specialized in ancient Egyptian history, and his office is littered with all sorts of Egyptian artifacts. The family was plunged into poverty upon his death, and everything was bought by Brisbane, including the artifacts. All these elements weave their way into the story.

When Julia discovers that Brisbane's ties to the Allenbys and the land go back to childhood, she tries her best to work herself further into his life. Luckily for the reader this means we get to have some of the questions answered that cropped up in the prior books.

Julia is precociously a feminist, but the book is not about that. There are other "anachronistic" elements: Portia is involved in a romantic relationship with another woman; Valerius wants to be a doctor, which appalls his father because it is a "trade;" Brisbane is a private investigator who uses scientific methods. But they all work because it doesn't feel contrived.

There is something so satisfying about Raybourn's books. Her pacing is excellent, her characters are interesting, and she mixes the gothic with the practical to great effect.

P.S. This book and the re-issue of Silent in the Sanctuary have the WORST covers. They convey exactly the opposite of what the books actually are. The bodice ripper covers belie the intelligent and well-written prose that lies within. Read the books anyway!

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