The third installment of the Lady Julia Grey series takes us to Yorkshire and the crumbling pile ‘Grimsgrave’ that Nicholas Brisbane has purchased from the impoverished Allenby family who line back to Kings and don’t mind people knowing it. Lady Julia, her sister Portia and their brother Valerius descend upon the tiny village, which is beyond remote and wrought with a sort of hopelessness. Not what she was expecting, Lady Julia is surprised when she finds the remains of the Allenby family, Lady Allenby and her two daughters Ailith and Hilda. Dependent upon Brisbane to show them kindness until a house can be furnished for them, they remain in the main residence. The two sisters are startlingly different – Ailith is fair and beautiful, remote and cool, every inch the refined and dignified daughter of the manor, despite their unfortunate current circumstances. Hilda in contrast is awkward and slightly ungainly, not as fair or attractive. She’s also prickly and resentful of Lady Julia’s presence and doesn’t bother to attempt to be polite. She also means to marry Brisbane to secure her future.
Originally there to ‘put Brisbane’s house to rights’, Portia and Lady Julia see that there’s really absolutely no hope that they will be able to go through and properly fix up this home as there is only one wing left and even that is in a state of disrepair. Loathe to leave, despite Brisbane ordering her to go even as he’s pulling her closer, Lady Julia is at a bit of a loose end until Lady Allenby offers to show her the deceased heir, Redwall Allenby’s Egyptian artifacts. Lady Julia offers to catalogue them for sale so that the Allenby women may have a little money behind them when the small house that is being made ready for them is finally finished. She throws herself into this task as her sister Portia and brother Valerius are forced to leave because of a personal issue in Portia’s private life. Unworried about the impropriety of staying unchaperoned in the house of a bachelor, Lady Julia stays on, spending her days walking the chilly moors, talking to the gypsy woman Rosalie who lives nearby and trying to get Brisbane to declare himself. Brisbane’s headaches have returned and he doesn’t have much to douse them with this time. The chemistry between them in this book is electric – as they stumble upon a new mystery and root out old ones, Brisbane is poisoned by one of the household. Only Lady Julia’s clever guess and by trusting her gut instinct is she able to save him by sending for the right person just in the nick of time. The longer Lady Julia spends at Grimsgrave, the more she realises that Brisbane is keeping from her and the more secrets keep spilling out. Terrible things have happened here and the family that has kept its bloodline ‘pure’ by having the heirs only marry females of the same blood has also manifested into some instability amongst all that refined class. The trouble is – just who is the most unstable one and who are the ones at risk?
I think this might be my favourite installment of this series yet, which is good – my enjoyment of these novels is increasing with each actual novel I read. I think this one I enjoyed so much simply because of the tortured interaction between Brisbane and Lady Julia. I really do have to blame Marg here for my obsession! She’s pretty much the sole reason I picked these up and I thank her for that because I love them! This book has chemistry in spades and Brisbane’s desire to force Lady Julia to leave him so that she will be safe from whatever evil is lurking around Grimsgrave (and there really is plenty of that) plus his need to have her with him is a delicious war and makes him more tortured hero. Lady Julia, far more resilient than I could ever be in such a situation, displays patience even in the face of Brisbane ordering her to leave and telling her that he doesn’t need her with him ever. She sticks it out, with the helpful advice of Rosalie the Gypsy who tells her to “ignore the words and look for the actions”. For her reward, she also learns a lot more about Brisbane’s past in this novel, which also helps her understand the man Brisbane even more as well and all that we learn of his childhood is tied up in the current goings on at Grimsgrave.
I thought the mystery in this novel was stronger than the second novel and at least as strong as the mystery in the first novel. The dilapidated Grimsgrave is a perfect setting and the windy and beautiful Yorkshire moors are easy to visualise and add nicely to the overall atmosphere. The cast of supporting characters in this novel were diverse and at times it was truly difficult to decide who to put your trust in and who to regard with suspicion as at one time, they all seem either just poorly misunderstood or fully up to no good. Because I am me and I never know who has ever done anything in mystery novels, most of the revelations were a nice surprise and I only guessed one part of the novel correctly, the parentage of the mummified babies secreted in the priest hole (and there’s a sentence I’m not sure I’ll ever type again).
A lot of people read this novels for the wonderful mysteries and the relationship between Brisbane and Lady Julia is secondary, or an added bonus. I actually think I read them the other way around – there’s nothing like a relationship fraught with sexual tension with obstacles scattered along the way to prevent the path to true love running smoothly. It takes a good author to know how to spin that tension out for several novels, and also, when to end it. I’m looking forward to reading book #4, Dark Road to Darjeeling where Lady Julia and Brisbane are now married. I am looking forward to how this marriage changes the dynamic and how it changes the moments between the two that make your heart stop.
Book #105 of 2010