RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn


Title: The Dark Enquiry
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publication Info: MIRA 2011
ISBN: 978-0778312376
Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Book Cover This review was written by Jennifer. This story was nominated in the Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category.

The summary: Partners now in marriage and in trade, Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane have finally returned from abroad to set up housekeeping in London. But merging their respective collections of gadgets, pets and servants leaves little room for the harried newlyweds themselves, let alone Brisbane's private enquiry business.

Among the more unlikely clients: Julia's very proper brother, Lord Bellmont, who swears Brisbane to secrecy about his case. Not about to be left out of anything concerning her beloved—if eccentric—family, spirited Julia soon picks up the trail of the investigation. It leads to the exclusive Ghost Club, where the alluring Madame Séraphine holds evening séances…and not a few powerful gentlemen in thrall.

From this eerie enclave unfolds a lurid tangle of dark deeds, whose tendrils crush reputations and throttle trust. Shocked to find their investigation spun into salacious newspaper headlines, bristling at the tension it causes between them, the Brisbanes find they must unite or fall. For Bellmont's sake — and more — they'll face myriad dangers born of dark secrets, the kind men kill to keep….

And here is Jennifer's review:

Set fifteen months  after their marriage,  Inquiry Agent Nicholas Brisbane and his would-be partner/wife return to London and become involved in a complicated mystery that involves a Spiritualist club and murder. The mystery once again involves Julia's family—this time her older brother, and member of the House of Lords, reluctantly calls on Brisbane after an indiscretion. The mystery itself is different from the previous Lady Julia books in that the scope of the investigation is much larger—as it involves politics.

If you are not familiar with the series and jumping in on this latest novel, you may not have all the background needed for Lady Julia’s world—especially about how she transitioned from the ‘quiet mouse’ to the partner of a half-gypsy cursed with precognitive abilities—my brief description doesn’t do the wonderful novels justice—but they are on sale–(and the first three bundled novels are on sale on Amazon) and a great bundle of books.

This volume starts out with a Lucy-worthy moment as Julia experiments with gunpowder. The romantic tension of the earlier novels has been replaced by tension revolving around Julia’s desire  to be an equal part of the team, when she isn’t quite capable yet-. Some of Julia’s family members even take her overenthusiasm as an insult her husband’s station. While Brisbane is awed by his wife's intellect, he remains worried about her lack of experience in dealing with the dangerous situations that his investigations often lead to (although she has been in ‘training’ since the last book). The story highlights the  tricky situation of having his professional and private life combining while trying to keep Julia safe. Indeed, Julia’s actions do end up causing an unexpected consequence in the end (and for lack of a better description, it was a true “WTF” moment) which was the one minor quibble I had with the dénouement of the story. 

The fifth Lady Julia Grey novel is not as gloomy as The Dark Road to Darjeeling  and seems to be a transition piece for the couple, in which the tone varies.  Nicholas and Julia remain enchanted with each other, but they are still coming into their own as 'partners' and discovering what exactly that means to each of them. The author continues to do a great job of balancing the romance of the Brisbanes with the investigation. The couple are like a progressive-Victorian Nick and Nora–and remain on the cutting edge of “domestic technology” –a telephone is installed in the home, as well as a new stove (that scares away the Cook).  And that is what is not so balanced about the  tone of the book. There are “cute” moments, there are “dangerous” moments – and there is an odd  flow to them. The lack of balance seems to reflect the rockiness of the new marriage that’s trying to find its footing, given Julia’s eagerness and Nicholas hesitancy.

Unexpected connections are made during the investigation for both Nicholas and Julia. The latest book has the Brisbanes setting off in a new direction and I hope that points to the potential for more novels in the series. These murder mysteries have always been keepers- and the re-reads are enjoyable because of the wit between the couple and the fact that they are such a unique pair in this era.

A- (downgraded only for the WTF moment which I won’t spoil, but seriously WTF!)

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | All Romance eBooks.

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