Review: The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn

My book reviewing has been a little fluffy lately, and this won’t be an exception.   I figure reading War and Peace gives me a pass for a while on the heavy stuff.

This is book five of the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn. I reviewed the previous book, Dark Road to Darjeeling, here.

I love historical mysteries, and next to Anne Perry’s Monk series, and C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr series, this is one of my favorite mystery series. Raybourn is a little less serious and more irreverent than those other authors, with a lot more romance. Her books also remind me a little bit of Gail Carriger’s steampunk series, which begins with Soulless.  Obviously a different genre, but the characters and setting are similar.

Julia is a Victorian-era woman who doesn’t want to be treated like a Victorian-era woman. She comes from a very unconventional family and is wealthy enough that she can pretty much behave as she wishes. She first meets Brisbane when he investigates the death of her first husband, Edward Grey. Brisbane is an “enquiry agent” or a detective-for-hire. Julia discovers she has some skill in solving myseries (and curiosity and a reckless disregard for personal safety) to make a good partner for Brisbane. She becomes his partner in –ahem- other ways as well.

If you like historical mysteries, I recommend you check out this series. Not so much for the mysteries themselves,
but for its really strong heroine and swoon-inducing hero. Did I really just say that?  Bleh. Seriously, I’m not much
of a romance reader but Nicholas Brisbane is pretty damn sexy. If you like dark, troubled, and a little dangerous,
Brisbane’s your man.  Raybourn at one point makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to Heathcliff at one point, who is NOT one of my favorite romantic figures, but it’s an apt comparison. Brisbane suffers from migraine headaches (I can relate) and has to dope himself with opium and other narcotics (I can also relate).  He may be a perfect agent, but he struggles to stay in control of his head and body, which makes him a much more sympathetic character.

Feel free to leave us here and go start the series.  If you’re still with me, here’s a brief review of the book.

As in Darjeeling, Julia and Brisbane are still settling into married life. In Darjeeling they were traveling in India,
but now they’re home and wrestling with issues like hiring the domestic staff, impressing the in-laws, working together, etc. Julia and Brisbane are larger-than-life characters but Raybourn really thinks about the details that make up building a marriage.

They become embroiled in a mystery when Julia’s upstanding politician brother is blackmailed for taking a mistress.
Julia dresses up as a man to infiltrate the Spirit Club, to find out more about a medium who’s conducting séances for
wealthy gentleman.

The heart of the story is whether Brisbane and Julia can learn to work together. Julia is smart but lacks detective
know-how, and she frequently puts herself in danger. Brisbane is trying to get her to learn the trade before she practices it.  He can’t bear the thought of Julia coming to harm but when he tries to keep things from her, she acts on her own which is even more risky. Julia can’t be married to someone who won’t treat her as a partner, and Brisbane doesn’t know how to stop protecting her.

Brisbane and Julia have to learn to compromise. They have to learn to rely on each other, and when to share
and when to keep things secret. They have to learn how to ask each other’s opinions and how to respect the other person’s boundaries. They have to learn that loving someone means taking care of yourself, not just the other person. It’s a tall order, but that’s married life.

What I love about these books is there’s no question they love each other. Julia and Brisbane are smart, practical,
thoughtful people but together they are like an explosion. Sometimes knowing you love each other isn’t enough.  They keep having this conversation and think it’s resolved, and then something happens that raises the issue all
over again.

I can’t say that Raybourn writes the best mystery stories. This story took so many twists and turns I had no
idea who did what by the end.  I’ll take Agatha Christie or Anne Perry for solid mystery writing.  But for period drama with mystery, romance, well-written dialogue and a sense of humor, I highly recommend these books.

As in Darjeeling, Raybourn sort of tacks on an emotional, and story-irrelevant ending to the book. In Darjeeling it felt completely unnecessary, but in this book I found it pretty powerful.  That’s all I’ll say.

If you’ve enjoyed the rest of the series, I’m pretty sure this book won’t disappoint.  It’s easy for a couple to get kind of boring in a series once they’ve gotten together.  Raybourn really manages to make their story richer with each book.

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