Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Silent in the Sanctuary.
As the second installment in The Lady Julia Grey series, this thoroughly engaging mystery works well within the framework of historical fiction.
While living in a luxuriously rented Italian villa on Lake Como, Lady Julia Grey receives a terse letter from her father, Earl March, demanding that she and brothers Plum and Lysander return to England for Christmas. Lysander has just married the lovely Violante without his father’s permission and must present the bride for his belated approval to ensure continued financial support. The handsome and younger Alessandro, who is smitten with Julia, accepts an impromptu invitation. Soon they all arrive at Bellmont Abbey, their childhood home made in a magnificent deconsecrated cloister.
Julia’s father is no longer angry and rather mischievously presents her to Nicholas Brisbane, the magnetic man who was instrumental in finding the murderer of her husband. After sharing a passionate kiss months before and giving Julia a pendant, he was never heard from again. Not expecting this turn of events, Julia is even more shocked when Brisbane introduces her to the rather insipid Mrs. Charlotte King as his fiancée. Poor relations Lucy and Emma Phipps have also arrived with Lucy’s rich older fiancé, Sir Cedric, a hard and overbearing man, and his assistant, Mr. Ludlow. With the portly Aunt Dorcas, local curate Lucian Snow, Aunt Hermia, Uncle Fly, and the Earl’s mistress, Hortense, this colorful group can almost keep Julia’s mind off Brisbane.
At dinner, the sparks fly when Snow expresses his opinion about the local gypsy population, who have long endeared themselves to the family March. When he presents a plan to take all their children away to be raised by non-gypsy families, Snow finds no agreement among the rest. Later he is found bludgeoned in the chapel, with an unlikely murderer confessing to his demise. To make matters worse, a sudden snowstorm cuts off the abbey from the local constabulary, and the body is stored in a place not normally used as a morgue. Even though the March family is eccentric and not bothered by public opinion, scandal is sure to touch the family and possibly ruin Lucy’s future, so Brisbane and Julia once again team up to find the real murderer. Stolen jewels, a missing aunt, and a couple of ghosts roaming the halls make this Victorian mystery a real gem.
Raybourn’s use of characterization is impressive and all, including minor ones, are well-formed and multi-faceted. This is quite a feat to accomplish, given the huge cast of characters and set along side an intricate multi-layered mystery. The relationship between Julia and Brisbane is pretty steamy, and one senses a lot is going on beneath his brooding exterior. Many mysteries peter out when the solution is revealed, but the discovery of the murderer is only the beginning of a series of twists and surprises that kept me guessing right up to the end. I was almost disappointed to finish Silent in the Sanctuary because the characters are so enjoyable, and I hope to visit them again soon in more of Raybourn’s stories.
Deanna Raybourn has also written Silent in the Grave.