A few days ago, Jan kindly provided me with a number of Mills & Boon ebook romances with which to waste a heck of a lot of time. Now, I don’t think I’d ever read a Mills & Boon before, and the first I took a peek at, Triple Threat by Jennifer LaBrecque, didn’t really impress me. What was I doing reading crap romance? I thought to myself.
Then I read Silent in the Grave and remembered that whilst romance isn’t often ground-breaking, world-changing, or even meaningful, it can be damn good fun.
Rather than being a simple romance, this book is best categorized as a mystery/romance — there are elements of both genres in the story, and I think it is this cross over that sets the book apart from all the other romances Jan gave me. There is depth to this book, tastes and colours and settings and adventure, and yes — even a hint of magic.
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. (Chapter 1, pg. 1)
That is the opening line to Silent in the Grave, as narrated by one Lady Julia Grey, whose husband dies suddenly and unexpectedly at a dinner party. Enter the mysterious investigator Nicholas Brisbane, who claims the death was not due to natural causes.
Drawn away from her comfortable, conventional life, Lady Julia is exposed to threatening notes, secret societies and gypsy curses, not to mention Nicholas’ charismatic unpredictability.
What I enjoyed about Grave was that the author didn’t just focus on the romance and forget the need for an engaging and emotionally-stimulating plot. As a matter of fact, the two characters never even end up in bed together and the kiss they share is hardly romantic. Instead of forgoing plot and filling with smut, there is something to think about here, there are twists to enjoy, goals and needs and worries that extend outside of the protagonist’s love life. In sum, this story is a lot easier to believe, and therefore much better for escapists like me.
The driver to the story is not the weary-old “oh dear, we seem inescapably attracted to each other, what now?” Rather, the murder takes centre stage, forcing Julia and Nicholas to meet and to explore the world around them for clues. Considering the Victorian setting, this world can be rather grimy (and yes, a brothel is involved at one point).
There are hints of magic throughout the storyline, but only just barely, more relayed as the superstitions of the time. Although I have to say whilst reading of my favourite scenes in the book I was momentarily convinced Nicholas was a werewolf (he’s not, silly me).
The writing itself pleasantly surprised me, as so often romances are badly written. Raybourn has the talent of the skilful brushstroke when it comes to description, the ability to capture images in very few words.
He lay, curled like a question mark, his evening suit ink-black against the white marble of the floor. (Chapter 1, pg. 7)
Character-wise, Julia is headstrong and independent, but not annoyingly so. She doesn’t swoon over Nicholas and let him take charge, or pretend to be independent whilst really relying on his protection — she is a thinking, acting creature. Yes, sometimes she makes stupid mistakes, but doesn’t everyone?
Nicholas remains a bit of a cipher, but I preferred it that way as opposed to the head-hopping and point of view changing so often found in other romances. The fact that Nicholas remains mysterious and unpredictable really adds to the thrilling uncertainty which I look for in a romance novel.
I suppose one of my few complaints was that Julia seemed a little callous initially about the death of her husband — it was only until later on in the book that I understood why she was less affected than one would expect.
In sum, while there are undoubtedly many better books out there, when it comes to romance, Silent in the Grave stands out for giving readers far more than a skin-and-bones plot. I’m definitely looking to read more of the series.