"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."
Have to say that this is the one of the best openings I've read for a long time and on the whole, the book did manage to live up it!
Despite Lady Julia Grey's unconventional family and liberal upbringing she leads a predictable life with her ailing husband. Unfortunately for all their guests he dies unexpectedly at a dinner party, but what makes it worse is that private inspector to the titled, Nicholas Brisbane, informs her that he was probably murdered. Although she found her marriage cold and unfulfilling, it takes a year of mourning and an accidental find to make her seek out Brisbane to reopen the case. By now the trail is stone cold, but they persist and delve into the seedier aspects of Victorian life to discover the murderer, but also that Julia really didn't know her husband at all.
I bought this hoping it would help fill the gap left by Amelia Peabody (completely read them all up years ago and it takes sooo long for new ones to come out!) and there are certain similarities. Firstly, Julia is ahead of her time, she has a radical father and non-conformist siblings. To them she has always been the normal one, marrying her childhood sweetheart and living a quiet life in London society. By becoming newly single (after the suitable period of mourning) she allows her sister Portia to revamp her wardrobe and hair! Her new found freedom allows her to engage the services of Nicholas Brisbane, who she finds herself increasingly attracted to. The book is written from Julia's point of view and she is equally engaging, witty and stupid! You can't really help but warm to her blundering and although the romantic element is an integral part, particularly the sparring between Julia and Nicholas, it really is a fun, gothic thriller.
Brisbane is obviously the dashing hero, but unfortunately for me, he has too many talents...brilliantly clever, violin virtuoso, languages, dodgy but moneyed family background, widely travelled, bare-knuckled fighter and famous lothario! I also assumed the "illness" would be malaria, possibly linked to his travels in exotic places, which might have been an interesting back story, but no - it's his psychic abilities! Apart from being easily irritated, he's just a bit too perfect. Despite finding all his many virtues, he does remain a man of mystery to a large degree and I feel Raybourn is holding out for the later novels.
Julia's family are interesting, particularly the ghoul and Portia, but are not fully developed yet and I hope this comes through more strongly in the series. Aquinas, the butler, is also a complete star and I hope he is able to take a larger role too!
The style of writing and descriptions is evocative of the Victorian era and again, makes it a good, enjoyable read. In terms of the murder, I sussed whodunit within the first 50 pages, but not the motive or method! The resolution is done fairly quickly towards the end of the book and it lacks sufficient twists and red herrings! (That's why it's a 4 star!)