Deanna Raybourn's debut novel, Silent in the Grave, kicks off with one of the more memorable opening lines I've ever had the pleasure of reading:
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.
The "I" in question is Lady Julia Grey, who turns out to be the wonderfully feisty late-20-something heroine of this extraordinarily fun novel, which is set in Victorian London. Together with private investigator Nicholas Brisbane, a tall, dark and handsome man, she sets out to discover who murdered her husband, although she is initially sceptical that his death was caused by anything other than natural causes.
The ensuing investigation is hampered from the outset, not the least because Julia is from a rich family where she is expected to play the part of a bereaved widow for at least a year, closeted from the world in her large London townhouse. But also because Nicholas Brisbane isn't exactly the easiest person to work with, riddled as he is by a mysterious illness and an equally mysterious past.
Determined to seek justice before beginning her life afresh, Julia sets about interviewing her servants and searching their rooms for clues. What she discovers isn't pleasant -- and before the story ends she must confront everything from gypsies to prostitutes in a bid to find her husband's killer.
Silent in the Grave is a rollicking good story that ploughs along at a furious pace, ably assisted by page-turning cliff hangers at the end of each chapter, so that you begin to wonder whether you will ever put the book down! The plot is terrific, with enough red herrings to keep you guessing, right up until the dark and somewhat unexpected denouement.
The setting feels authentic, rich in historical detail, so that you can almost hear the clamour of horses hooves on London's cobbled streets or the swish of silk as the heroine scuttles down darkened corridors in pursuit of her quarry. And Lady Julia Grey is a brilliant creation. A tough, intelligent woman -- probably a century before her time -- who doesn't take any prisoners but still knows when to be polite and gracious. I loved her.
The effortless writing style, which has a touch of the Jane Austens about it, is littered with cracking one-liners, too, so that I found myself tittering all the way through the book.
Apparently Silent in the Grave is the first in a new series featuring Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane. Naturally, I will be keeping my eye out for the second book, although I'm afraid it has a lot to live up to if it is to be anything half as brilliant as this one. Let's just hope Raybourne doesn't suffer from second novel nerves!