8 Rated Books

Book Review: Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Title: Silent in the Grave

Author: Deanna Raybourn

Genre: Mystery, Historical

Stand alone or series: Book 1 of a (soon to be) three book series.

Why did I read this book: I had picked up Silent in the Grave earlier this year after reading some excellent reviews for it online…then it sat on my TBR shelf, all but forgotten. Then, last week, Kate (of the always excellent What Kate’s Reading) mentioned that the book was one of her favorite reads of the year, and admonished me for letting it be absorbed into The Blob (my new name for my ever-growing TBR mountain that will never be conquered)! Thus, I extracted my copy from Blobby, and got down to business.

Summary: (from amazon.com)
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 long-standing 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.


To say that 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.

With these two sentences, Deanna Raybourn begins her stunning debut novel–a tale of intrigue, Victorian mystery, and self-discovery.

Lady Julia Grey and her husband Edward are hosting a dinner party when Edward is taken violently ill and collapses. Shortly after, Edward dies, presumably due to his weak heart–yet another victim of the Grey family curse, in which many of the males of the bloodline die young because of physical infirmity.

Left a surprisingly wealthy widow following her husband’s death, Lady Julia finds herself curiously numb. For so long, her life had been determined by her husband–from the decorations in the home, to the colors and fashions she had worn. Enter Julia’s colorful family, the distinguished Marches–known for their rich lineage, political prominence, and most of all, their flair for rebelliousness. Julia’s father, Lord March who had never approved of his youngest daughter’s marriage to her childhood sweetheart (in fact offering just before walking her down the aisle to spirit her away immediately), and Julia’s elder sister Portia (who had scandalously taken her cousin Jane as a lover following the death of her own husband years before) encourage Julia to seize control of her life, step out from the drab gray shadows cast by her husband, and to show some of the impulsive adventurism for which the Marches are known.

And so Julia does, when she makes the formal acquaintance of Mr. Nicholas Brisbane. She soon discovers that Brisbane had been hired by Edward because he had been receiving threatening, ominous threats and had feared for his life, and Brisbane was investigating the case. As such, he warns Julia that he suspects her husband’s death was not due to natural causes, but murder. Although initially Julia brushes off his accusations, when her year of mourning has been completed she discovers one of the threatening notes and cannot ignore it. She enlists Brisbane’s reluctant aid and embarks on an earnest investigation of Edward’s death, uncovering a marriage full of secrets and deceit, and yet discovering herself, as a strong, unique woman in the process.

From the very opening lines of Silent in the Grave, I was hooked. It’s hard to believe that this is Ms. Raybourn’s debut novel for it is truly stunning–a heady Victorian-era mystery with complex characters, flawless pacing, and written beautifully in a crisp, strong voice. Even though the intrigue surrounding Edward’s death thickens and the story takes a more serious, even tragic turn, it is wonderfully balanced with a dash of romance, friendships, and the irrepressible spirit of the March family.

While this is a murder mystery, at its heart Silent in the Grave is a tale of self-discovery. Narrated in the first person by Lady Julia, she grows from a repressed individual desperate to fit into a ‘Normal’ mold–as seen in her conventional, by the numbers marriage to her childhood sweetheart and proper society connections–to a bold, unique woman, finally comfortable in her own skin. I loved how her transformation manifests both physically and emotionally, as Julia gradually loses her desire to be the perfect society wife and widow. Physically, she chooses fashions she longs to wear after her year of mourning, casting aside her namesake Grey and widow’s weed blacks, instead favoring bold crimsons and greens, and crops her long hair. Emotionally, she abandons the balls and dinners she had found so tedious as a wife, and her pursuit of an investigation with the dangerous, enigmatic Mr. Brisbane embodies this change of mentality. Even her narrative grows more self-assured with each passing chapter!

Nicholas Brisbane, through Julia’s eyes, is the opposite of her cold Edward in every respect. Dark, heated and emotional where Edward was fair, mild and detached, Brisbane and Julia have an electric dynamic. In many ways, he represents everything Julia had repressed in her desire for Normalcy–and she fights with these emotions (subconscious or repressed as they may be) through the novel.

As for the host of other characters, they are all wonderfully portrayed, each feeling completely distinct and authentic. I loved Ms. Raybourn’s particular spin with the March family–how often have I read books where a spirited young heroine rebels against her strict, proper family? In this novel, the family criticizes Julia for her decided lack of March-ishness–to the point where they encourage her to be reckless and daring! I loved Julia’s father, her sister Portia, her strange aunts and her secretive younger brother–it has been a while since I have had the pleasure of reading a family such as the Marches, full of life and spunk and character. The other secondary characters–particularly Julia’s butler Aquinas, reformed prostitute maid Morag, and the (in)famous courtesan Hortense de Bellefleur–also shine.

As for the mystery itself, all I can say (without fear of spoiling) is that it is perfectly executed. It is certainly no shocker when the killer is revealed, but there are enough twists and turns along the way to make for an exciting, at times shocking, tale.

Silent in the Grave is a stunner of a debut–and I cannot wait to read Silent in the Sanctuary (book 2), and eagerly await the release of Silent on the Moor early next year!

Notable Quotes/Parts: A sample of Lady Julia’s delightful narrative, as she grows ever bolder and takes initiative of the investigation:

It took me the better part of the next day to write my letter to Doctor Griggs. I had not expected it would be so difficult, but striking just the right balance of wifely concern and abject stupidity was harder than I had anticipated. In the letter, I claimed that although my year of mourning was nearly finished, I thought of Edward more than ever. I told him that he came to me in dreams, mouthing words I could not hear, but that I had read somewhere that this was a clear sign of murder. I begged him to tell me if there had been any indication whatsoever of foul play. I pleaded with him to give me every detail of Edward’s collapse and death, especially the few hours I had been kept away from him. I reminded him of the long history between our families and gently hinted that a man of his genius would have easily seen something amiss. I flattered, I cajoled, and in the end, I sprinkled a few drops of water over the ink to simulate tears. I was a little ashamed of myself for enjoying it so much, but that soon passed.

Additional Thoughts: Like the threatening letters Julia discovers, each chapter of the book begins with a brief yet pertinent quote–the majority of which are lifted from various works of Shakespeare. This isn’t a preferred method of storytelling for me, but I loved it in this novel. How very appropriate, considering the mystery. Form truly does equal content. My favorite? “For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds; Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.” ~ Shakespeare “Sonnet 94”

Verdict: Silent in the Grave is a beautiful novel, and I loved every second of it–thank you yet again, Kate! As I was telling Ana, it’s one part romance and sparkling dialogue, along the lines of a Lisa Kleypas; it’s another part drama and intrigue, along the lines of a Shadow of the Wind. I highly recommend it!

Rating: 8 Excellent – although again, leaning heavily towards a 9.

Reading Next: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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  • Ana
    November 19, 2008 at 12:27 am

    1) BLOB? *crackup*

    2) I got this book , it’s coming today, cannot wait to read it. A mix of Lisa Kleypas with Zafon? I had to.

  • Jennifer B.
    November 19, 2008 at 5:43 am

    Wow. Just Wow. What a fabulous review. One of those reviews that makes me want to order the book, bring it home and bypass the TBR pile altogether–sitting right down to start reading it. Thank you!

  • Leslie
    November 19, 2008 at 7:03 am

    Great review Thea. I too loved this book and Silent in the Sanctuary, IMO is even better! Love Julia and Brisbane and watching their relationship grow.

  • Brie
    November 19, 2008 at 11:08 am

    I loved this book! I’m reading Silent in the Sanctuary now and enjoying it immensely. Great review, Thea!

  • Angiegirl
    November 19, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Yes, yes, yes. To everything you said. I adore this book. And, as Leslie said, SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY is just as good. The next one is seriously one of my most anticipated novels of ’09.

  • Kate
    November 19, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    I’m so glad you finally read it! I was so terribly pleased with it, and I ran out to get the second one immediately after finishing the first – in fact, I’m rereading “Sanctuary” right now to get me in the mood for “Moor” in January! Ms Raybourn wrote a fantastic debut with such a great voice and eclectic characters – and the growing relationship between Julia and Brisbane is just fantastic, almost a part of every page without it being overbearing. And that’s pretty amazing too, since they spend so little time together.

  • orannia
    November 19, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    ‘Blob’? LOL

    Thank you so much Thea and dare I say perfect timing 🙂 I just picked this book up from the library last Friday and I’ve been trying to decide when to read it…straight after Seduce Me to Sunrise…or should I sneak in Vampire Academy first (I try to mix up my genres). Decision, decisions…. 🙂

  • Thea
    November 19, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Ana–Hehe. Yes. Blobby and I. Seriously, the TBR (like its namesake monster, the Blob) is impervious to my efforts to minimize and contain it. (And no, airlifting it to an icy climate is not an option!)

    Dude, you will love this book. I know it.

    Jennifer B–Wow, thank you!!! You just made my day 🙂 I hope you enjoy this novel. Let me know what you think if and when you get a chance to read it!

    Leslie–Wow, book 2 is even better?! Now I’m really excited! I too really loved Julia and Brisbane, in all their interactions. Both characters are so wonderfully written, I really cannot wait to read more of them 🙂

    Brie–Oooh, I’m jealous. I want Silent in the Sanctuary right now! Alas, two of my local bookstores did not have it in stock…I’m trying one more and then resorting to amazon.

    Angie–Y’all are killing me! Maybe I’ll go to the bookstore tonight to hunt down a copy! Can I just say how happy I am that the series did not end the story of Julia and Brisbane in book 1 and move on to another couple for the next book? I was so relieved to see that they remain the protagonists in the next novel 🙂

    Kate–Thank you again! I cannot believe how long I let this book sit, unread.

    and the growing relationship between Julia and Brisbane is just fantastic, almost a part of every page without it being overbearing. And that’s pretty amazing too, since they spend so little time together.

    I was thinking the same thing! This actually kinda reminded me of Sleepless in Seattle (as cheesy as that sounds!); even though the two protagonists actually do not have many scenes together, the chemistry, the dynamic between them is so…ON. I love it.

  • Thea
    November 19, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Orannia–Great minds! :p

    You have some truly tough book prioritizing decisions ahead of you! Living dangerously, indeed 😉 I can’t wait to see what you think of all three books!

  • Karin
    November 19, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Though I’m not usually a fan of first person narratives, this story sounds intriguing.

  • Kate
    November 20, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Karin, I usually hate first person narratives, probably because they tend to end up horribly written. I didn’t have any problem with the first person in Ms Raybourn’s books.

    Thea – on Julia and Brisbane’s relationship – there’s a magnificent intensity to isn’t there? I was thinking about it again last night, and there’s such a fine connection between the two regardless of how physically close they are (I mean, the second book starts out with Julia in Italy, for god’s sake) the intensity remains so strong. It gets better in the second book, if you can believe it 🙂

  • Ana
    November 20, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Listen, will you guys please stop teasing me with this romance talk? I want to read this book NOW and it’s still not here damnit!

  • Li
    November 20, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    The Blob – brilliant!

    Oh, I loved this book too. And probably one of the best opening lines ever!

  • Deanna Raybourn
    November 25, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Hey, thanks for all the book love! A reader sent me the link to your review, and it was a lovely treat. (I’m tail over teakettle revising my fourth book and it’s VERY nice to duck work for a minute and read such enthusiastic comments, believe me.) Glad y’all are enjoying the series so much–and just so you know, my editor says the third book is even better than the second. 😉

  • Thea
    November 26, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Karin–First Person PoV is definitely a tricky thing (completely hit or miss with me), but I second what Kate says. It’s flawless here 🙂 I’d definitely give this one a go.

    Kate–Definitely. The charge between these two characters is shocking (Oh my LORD I AM LAME with the lame puns). Can you believe I still haven’t found a copy of the second book? I ordered one at a slightly further away store, and they SAY that they have it waiting for me, so fingers crossed I will have it in time for the long break 🙂

    Deanna–Wow, thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! I’m blushing!

    You have some big fans here (if you couldn’t tell)–and we all cannot wait for the now confirmed excellent Silent on the Moor 😉

    Oh, and I’ve added your site to our author blogroll 🙂

  • Thea
    November 26, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Oops, sorry Li *blushes again*

    I agree–Silent in the Grave has one of my favorite opening lines ever. Right up there with “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

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