Silent in the Grave begins as a simple Victorian parlor mystery, but by the end, the author has seduced the reader into a world of menace that exposes the ill intentions of jealousy and thwarted love in 1886 London.
Still a young man, the eccentric and wealthy Edward Grey collapses in front of his wife, his early death no surprise as he has long suffered from an ailing heart. What is a surprise is Nicholas Brisbane, an inquiry agent who is at Grey House on the night of Edward’s demise.
The darkly attractive Brisbane informs the widowed Lady Julia that her husband hired him to uncover the source of threatening missives he had been receiving, increasingly terrified that someone meant him harm. In the confusion of the moment, Julia puts such concerns aside but is unable to move on as long a shadow remains over Edward’s death. She contacts Brisbane after her required year of mourning to request that he reopen the investigation.
Thinking of the enterprise as a diversion from her enforced mourning, Julia is unprepared for the revelations that surface. Somewhat dispassionate toward the welfare of those who provide her services, Julia has grown complacent in privilege, making the usual donations to the less fortunate but hardly involved in the world outside her door.
Now, through cajoling and lectures, Brisbane informs Julia that she must search her servants’ quarters, indeed the whole of Grey House, for clues, impressing on her the need for secrecy and the danger to her person. Meaning to strictly follow directions, Julia instead makes a decision that interferes with the direction of the investigation, unable to master her impulsive generosity.
Soon Julia finds herself much more familiar with the lives of her servants, the hard-working poor and a delightful French courtesan, as well as an eccentric physician associate of Brisbane’s. But whether from an excess of stubbornness or her disbelief that anyone means her harm, Julia is not the least circumspect, putting herself in grave danger.
The fact that the taciturn Brisbane is devastatingly handsome (think Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights) only adds fuel to the smoldering fire that simmers between Julia and the investigator, neither of them willing to acknowledge their mutual attraction. Unfortunately, for Julia, the denouement is shocking and unexpectedly painful; her world lies in shambles by the end.
A thrilling mystery, this novel is also a guilty pleasure, all the more piquant thanks to an unexpected twist. Although this is a Harlequin imprint, in no way should this book be stereotyped as a simple Victorian romance. Rather, it is a remarkable blend of menace, romance and skillful plotting, a riveting tale of privilege and murder. Not since Ann Rice’s “Mayfair Witches” trilogy have I so anticipated a sequel.