Click here to read reviewer Jaimie Bell's take on Silent in the Sanctuary.
Raybourn scores another knockout with her sequel to Silent in the Grave, Lady Julia Grey returning in a contretemps with the enigmatic private enquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane. Recovering from a brush with death after the murder of her husband, Italy has been calming for Julia, who returns to Sussex and the family home at Belmont Abbey with her two brothers and new sister-in-law.
Unbeknownst to Lady Julia, among the invited guests for the family reunion is none other than Nicholas Brisbane - as well as his peaches-and-cream fiancť. Not to worry; Julia has brought along a diversion of her own from Tuscany, the younger Count Alessandro Fornacci.
In a large family with a love of energetic discussion, the gathering promises some interesting entanglements - until one of the guests is brutally murdered, Juliaís cousin standing over the body with a candelabra, her hands dripping with the dead manís blood.
In this late 19th-century drama is set in the old Abbey-cum-estate of the Earl of March, four centuries of history with secret passages and eerie nighttime noises creates the perfect ambiance for a grisly death and the attempted murder of two others, the estate snowbound, a killer among the guests. Unfortunately, cooped up with one another, suspicion arises, the enforced restrictions causing cracks even in family solidarity.
With ghosts appearing in the dark of night, decanters laced with laudanum, missing family jewels and even a disappearing family relative, this macabre tale unfolds. The snowbound Christmas revelers chafe at their confinement and the taint of murder that will follow them after the thaw.
Raybourn has a knack for building suspense and the particular tension of a class-conscious drawing room drama where an eclectic group of individuals gather, some with nefarious intent. The romantic tension as well as the investigative competition between Julia and Brisbane adds an element of energy that underlies the scenes, from parlor to bedroom to secret passages.
The late 19th century is a perfect backdrop for a mystery, the isolated setting, the creaking abbey where the Earl of March hosts the gathering and other arcane touches, guttering candles, floating ghosts, romantic liaisons and a panoply of eccentric characters, including a devious killer.
Not content with a murder, Raybournís cast includes a jewel thief and a truly vicious man who craves the veneer of society and wealth to cover his shameless ambition. Of course, the unresolved issues between Julia and Brisbane are the heart of the matter, closer to fruition, but not quite yet.