Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn – Review

Book Jacket:

“Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.”

These ominous words are the last threat that Sir Edward Grey receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, he collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.

Prepared to accept that Edward’s death was due to a long-standing physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that her husband was murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers damning evidence for herself, and realizes the truth.

Determined to bring the murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward’s demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

You can read an excerpt here.


Silent in the Grave is a charmer, plain and simple. A solidly interesting little cozy mystery that brims with colorful characters and delights in poking fun at Victorian notions of propiety, this book just has a vivacious personality. It is very easy to have fun reading this book.

In some ways, the very first line says it all:

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.

This book has a language all its own, an understated playfulness that is smart but never condescending. The dialogue and Julia’s internal commentary are both marvelously entertaining and make up the heart and soul of this book.

Julia Grey is an intelligent, if somewhat naive, Lady who hails from a long line of eccentrics. Her rather conventional life has been something of a disappointment to her family, but all that changes with the death of her husband. The mystery of his death becomes a catalyst for Julia, forcing her not only to question everything she thought she knew about the people in her life, including her husband, but also to reexamine the person she has become.

In terms of investigating in Victorian times, Julia is able to sally forth quite freely thanks to her status as a widow. I have no idea if this book is in any way historically accurate, but it is a fully cohesive whole and never once was I jarred out of the narrative by questions of authenticity. There are definitely some pieces to this story that hint at a modern sensibility, but I also could easily believe that such things could very well have existed on the unspeakable fringes of Victorian society, so either way, I was content with and amused by the constitution of Julia’s world.

The mystery itself is a rather contained one, and it really breaks down to a series of character studies, of Julia and her husband, of Brisbane, of the household staff, and others. Personalities lie at the heart of this mystery, and it is here that Raybourn excels – even the minor players in this drama are vital and distinctive, and never once did I have to stop and try to remember who someone was, or why they were important. There were also wonderful side-plots going every which way that managed to be equally as interesting as the main mystery, another feat on Raybourne’s part.

I do think things slowed down in the second act, when Brisbane’s illness dominated the plot a bit too much (and I’m not entirely convinced that it was a necessary addition to the story), but the unanswered questions will draw you through, and the plot resumes its steady, if not headlong, pace before long. The mystery is a comfortable kind of dangerous, and it all comes together nicely – from early on I had a pretty good idea of a fairly large piece of the puzzle, but there was plenty I didn’t know to be surprise with at the end.

Happily, while there is a strong romantic thread to this book, it never devolves into capitol “R” Romance territory. A mystery story it begins, and a mystery it remains, though it has fun playing with the unmistakable attraction between Julia and Brisbane, who himself clearly hails from the Rochester school of dark brooding. The dance of “will they, won’t they” is always fun to watch, and this book absolutely delights in knocking together the foreheads of these two stubborn, intelligent, and overly proud people. Their relationship is never easy or straightforward, and always interesting. People who enjoy having a couple to root for will definitely not be disappointed by this book.

So while this is not the most driven, fraught, or twisty mystery I’ve ever read, Silent in the Grave delivers an easy, fun read chock full of personality. If you’re in the mood for light and cozy, this is definitely one for you.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Angieville says:

I so enjoyed Julia and her measured narration, her bizarrely large but loving family, and her cautiously fresh observations on the world and the people around her. It is as though her husband’s death removes a film from her eyes, and she is unnerved to realize she hardly recognizes where she is and who she has become…As you can tell, I was completely taken with the characters and Deanna Raybourn’s well-paced writing style, both of which made for an incredibly absorbing, enjoyable read. I’ll be picking up the sequel ASAP.

Material Witness says:

The story is sparky and exceptionally well told, always amusing and endlessly interesting.  The mystery plot develops slowly, but is worth the wait as it boils up to fiery ending. But while biding her time with the plot, Raybourn built her edifice quite brilliantly, revealing much fascinating details about late Victorian mores, attitudes and behaviour. The description of the absurdities of the mourning period and the place in society occupied by the mourner are as hilarious as they are detailed. Not being a Victorian historian I don’t know how accurate all of this is, but it is convincing and that is all that really matters from the perspective of fiction. Raybourn also introduces us to an electic collection of characters who one hopes will populate the promised sequels to this book. From Lady Julia’s sapphic sister Portia, through her morbid aunt – nicknamed “the Ghoul” because of her attraction to the dead and dying – through various odd brothers, doctors, servants and society figures. It is a rich and satisfying tapestry.

Bookshelves of Doom says:

Super easy breezy read, absolutely a perfect, perfect summer pick — if the sequel is checked out of the library at the moment, I will be very PUT OUT.