The Lady Julia Grey series is reliably good fun for enthusiasts of Victorian historical thrillers, the widowed Julia now wed to private Investigator Nicholas Brisbane, as romantic a hero as might be required to interest such a rebellious creature as the spoiled Lady Julia. After a romantic chase that has eluded readers in previous installments of Lady Julia’s adventures, the lady has finally married the enigmatic Welshman, their incendiary personalities lending tension to the relationship as love flares hot and cold, often commensurate with danger.
Breaking from their original honeymoon plans, the newlyweds join with Julia’s sister, Portia, and brother, Plum, to journey to India where newly-widowed Jane Cavendish, Portia’s dear friend, awaits the birth of her first child. Since Freddie Cavendish’s untimely death, the fate of the Cavendish tea plantation rests on whether Jane delivers a boy or a girl. If suspicions prove accurate and Freddie has been murdered, Jane’s position becomes even more precarious. Determined to protect Jane at any cost, Lady Julia and her entourage descend upon the Cavendish family, Brisbane engaged in his customary distractions, irritating the new Mrs. Brisbane when he fails to remain with the party.
The scenario is familiar, and it works well every time: Nicholas pursues his investigation, keeping his concerns close to the vest, while Lady Julia flutters from the Cavendish estate to the guest house, where two other Grey relatives have imposed upon the Cavendish’s hospitality. There is the added interest of a local minister and his family, a man of God with a free-thinking wife, bright young son and petulant albeit beautiful daughter. To add the flavor of India’s locale, Lady Julia makes the acquaintance of various servants and the White Rajah, a gracious gentleman who seems to know all the secrets of the locals but keeps his true identity to himself.
From these disparate characters, Julia ponders motives and relationships, trusting no one as she posits one murderous scenario after another, only to reject each as another daring escapade springs to mind. While this type of mental exercise is hardly unusual for Julia, too much of the story is wasted on speculation in this novel, a constant mixing and matching of possibilities all for naught. Frankly, I was getting tired of entertaining Lady Julia’s theories, craving action instead of hypothesis.
Raybourn delivers plenty of action in the last third of the story, and she delivers it with a vengeance. India provides a more exotic setting than Lady Julia’s other contretemps with mendacious characters, but these novels are essentially about a beautiful busybody with the instincts of a detective, perfectly matched to her lover/husband, Nicholas Brisbane. Family dramas aside, the magic is found between Lady Julia and Brisbane. Mr. and Mrs. Sleuth stories are the perfect venue for this couple, regardless of the setting. And, as usual, Raybourn leaves us wanting more of Nicholas, as does the new Mrs. Brisbane.