The second in the series about Lady Julia Grey. This time the story moves on from the terrible house fire caused when she confronted her husband’s murderer. She's had a relaxing few months in Italy with her brothers, Lysander and Plum and their charming friend Alessandro. They are ordered back to England for Christmas by their father when he hears of Lysander's unexpected marriage to the beautiful and fiery Violante.
They arrive back in the midst of a large pre-Christmas house party where the guests include large numbers of her family but also the intriguing Nicholas Brisbane and his new fiancée. Julia can't deny she's still attracted to him, but the murder of the local curate, the confession by her cousin and her father's insistence that she assists Brisbane in the investigation take precedence.
Lady Julia seems a more complete character in this book and amongst her bizarre and beguiling family seems more natural, relaxed and the author doesn't have to create too many of the "clever, spiky" conversations that dotted through the first book. There's far less emphasis on her looks, clothes and personal foibles that makes her even more likeable and engaging.
Her family are great...and as I hoped they are developing into far more rounded and substantial people. Portia remains a gem and long may she appear alongside Julia. The bizarre and slightly bitter Aunt Dorcas added humour as did the image of what she got up to when she left the house! Sadly, Aquinas didn't appear as much, but I still have great hopes for him!
Nicholas Brisbane, again, is easier to like in this book as there is less emphasis on his many skills and virtues. I appreciate as the first in the series the author wanted to set her stall out and give a lot of information, but although he remains a very attractive hero with small aspects of the "man of mystery" being revealed. The ongoing, “will they, won't they” romantic aspect is fine with me and allows the focus of the book to be on the characters and their motives for murder. Sadly Alessandro, although beautiful to look at could never be the romantic interest for Julia.
The actual mystery within the novel is less dark and convoluted than in the first one and again, I think this suits the house party setting and a more relaxed Julia.
Due to all the above I've given this one an extra half star as I thought it was more enjoyable and fun and I'm on with reading the third in the series already. I had great hopes of it filling the gap left by Amelia Peabody and I hope it remains in that style just without the Egyptology aspect.