If you are going to take one vivacious, smart-mouthed heroine and match her with a Heathcliffesque detective and throw them together in a decaying manor house on the North Yorkshire Moors inhabited by the last descendants of Alfred the Great - well, then you'd better know what you're doing.
One false step on those Moors and you're up to your neck in it. But proceed with care and it can be a dramatic and satisfying landscape.
Moving outside the comfort zone of Victorian London society does not derail Deanna Raybourn (interview with the author) who scores another hit in the third installment of her accomplished "Silent" series featuring the aristocratic Lady Julia Grey and her would be beau and partner in detection, Nicholas Brisbane. (See reviews of previous instalments, Silent in the Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary).
Lady Julia, with her sassy sapphic sister Portia, heads north to Grimsgrave, a pile on the Moors recently acquired by Brisbane to help him get his new household in order. When they arrive Portia and Julia find a family in residence with even bluer blood and even more potty than their own March clan - the Allenbys, who trace their roots back to the Saxon kings of England and remain fiercely proud of that fact despite much reduced circumstances that mean they now rely on Brisbane for home and hearth.
When they arrive Lady Julia finds Brisbane distracted by a mysterious investigation further north and he promptly disappears - although not before he has given her romantic encouragement - leaving her to satisfy her boundless curiosity by prying into the Allenby family history and their engagement with the locals. What she finds is a heady cocktail of Eygptology, gypsy curses, philandering country gents, and a bizarre preoccupation with bloodlines that, sure enough, soon places her and others in peril.
Written in the style of say, Wuthering Heights (which is referred to as being relatively nearby), Silent on the Moor is not likely to have worked. But Deanna Raybourn is far too clever for that and instead directs a production that balances the mystery with humour. It is, as the cover of the book says, "wickedly witty". The device of imbuing the March sisters with more modern sensitivities allows the author to poke gentle fun at the rigid, social conventions of the late Victorian age, but at the same time Raybourn's clear affection for the period, the people and England itself prevents this from becoming sneering or excessive.
Instead the story is charmingly told, the heroine is feisty and likable, the supporting cast engagingly eccentric and the plot boils away quickly towards a dramatic cliffhanger of an ending. Ithoroughly enjoy this series. The books are entertaining and easy to read but also full of period detail. I am already very much looking forwards to book 4, which I understand is set in India.
I just have one complaint. The UK cover (above) is pink and very feminine. This did not stop me reading it in public, as it might some, I suppose, but had I not heard of Deanna Raybourn and just come across the book in Waterstones I would have made immediate assumptions about the story and walked on past without giving it a second look. I don't doubt that that says something uncomplimentary about me, but it is true nonetheless and makes me wonder if the presentation of the Silent series in the UK isn't instantly deterring half its potential audience. Looking online for pictures to illustrate this, I see that the US cover is actually worse and makes it look like some sort of Mills and Boon bodice ripper rather than the terrific period mystery it is.
I may be wrong but I think these books might be better served by the US cover used on previous books. See Silent in the Grave here. Alternatively perhaps I have misjudged the books and I am becoming a fan of romance in my advancing years. Either way, I'm not crazy about the cover.