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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: 'The Dark Enquiry'

THE DARK ENQUIRY                                                        
By Deanna Raybourn
Historical crime fiction
June 2011
Mira Books
ISBN: 978-0-7783-1237
Lady Julia Grey thinks she has settled well into married life with the dashing, enigmatic and brilliant Nicholas Brisbane. She blows out windows in his consulting roms experimenting with explosives while he tries to protect her by not revealing what cases he's working on. She insists on playing a greater role as helpmeet. He plans outings for her in the country to help her brother Plum, Brisbane's latest apprentice, find some missing jewels.

There's a lot of protecting and going behind each other's backs in displays of love and competitiveness. It's bound to come to a head.

When Julia's priggish eldest brother, Bellmont, consults Brisband in secret, the ensuing pursuits brought about by the case and the personalities of Julia and Brisbane lead, naturally, to complications. The newlyweds end up at a seance involving hidden passages and they witness a death. The case uncovers betrayals both personal and political. The government may be toppled by the goings on. The balance of power on the continent may shift.

To relate this tale and others in the series, Deanna Raybourn has created an arch, entertaining voice for her narrator, Lady Julia. She brings to mind Amelia Peabody, the creation of legendary Elizabeth Peters, who also married a dashing, enigmatic and brilliant man known by his last name. The continuing tales of both couples include an evergrowing circle of family and friends.

But this series is not a photoimage of the first. For one, there is no save-the-world younger character. Getting to know the various members of the Grey and Brisbane families, and introductions to new members of their circle -- especially two new footmen and the mysterious Sir Morgan Fielding -- promise new twists in their adventures. The new characters also have compelling backstories and old ones have new complications in their lives. And while the Peters series is a mystery one with a hint of romance, Raybourn's series is as much indebted to the tropes of romance as it is to crime fiction.

For in working to solve the case before them and dealing with the problems of working together caused by their feelings, Brisband and Lady Julia also are forced to come to deeper understandings of their own emotions and those of the other. Raybourn is particularly adept at thoroughly marrying character and plot in this regard to make her novels an entertaining mesh of the two genres.

That these characters can survive the events of the last few pages speaks to the strength of their author's care of creating them. That fans will want to continue reading more novels speaks to her fidelity to her characters. She amply rewards the trust that readers give her.

©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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