Dead Travel Fast

Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey mysteries, beginning with Silent in the Grave, has been a quiet hit in these parts and with six volumes in the series, my friends and I are eager to read more. Raybourn’s writing is easy and polished and her love of words evident in the care she takes in crafting her sentences. I also have a penchant for gothic romances and vampires so I was eager to try her debut, The Dead Travel Fast, which features both.

Take one headstrong Scottish woman, unmarried and practical with a talent in crafting stories to frighten impressionable young ladies, a suffocating household and an invitation to visit a school friend who is about to get married in Transylvania. And so Theodora Lestrange travels to meet her friend Cosmina who is staying in bleak Castle Dragul in the high Carpathian mountains, cut off from civilisation by snow and superstition. Here she meets the brooding and handsome Count Andrei Dragulescu, Cosmina’s cousin and fiancé, who fascinates and frightens her and won’t leave her alone. Taking the opportunity to use this experience to start writing her novel, Theodora soon realises that not all is as it seems at Castle Dragul. Why do they warn her not to keep her windows open at night? And why is there a sprig of basil hanging over her windowsill? And what of the strange dreams and ashen features of Cosmina and her aunt? And when one of the maids is found dead and drained of blood, Theodora’s fear crystalises.

I really enjoyed The Dead Travel Fast, which is full of references to classic gothic and Victorian sensation novels, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, which I am sure Raybourn loves. The ending wasn’t as dramatic as I expected but I liked the twist which distinguishes this novel from other classic vampire tales. There was a good mixture of surprise and familiar comfort. That is no mean feat as finding something new to say, in what is fast becoming a crowded genre, is pretty difficult. But I think what elevates this book is the care with which Raybourn crafts her writing. She writes beautifully and her novels really deserve a lot more attention than they get. And yes, maybe some may not think the subject matter may to be serious enough but, as Donna Tartt says, reading should be as much about enjoyment as well as the well crafted sentence. And you get both in The Dead Travel Fast.

So I’m back from my travels and have several reviews plus a post on the Galle Literary Festival 2010 in the pipeline waiting to be tweaked and refined before I present them to you!

I managed to read several books during my two and a half week holiday, some planned and many unplanned. My only grump was Georgette Heyer’s Footsteps in the Dark which I just couldn’t finish and so left behind at my parent’s home. Maybe I’ll dust off the cobwebs in my brain and try to finish it next year. And I didn’t manage to even open George R.R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings which I hope to do so very soon.

My first offering to you is Deanna Raybourn‘s Silent on the Moor which will be my first book for the Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge 2010 hosted by Book Chick City.

I took this book with me on my short trip to Bangkok, but didn’t manage to open the first page until my plane journey back to Sri Lanka. I went to Bangkok with my mother who morphed into a turbo-charged shopping and eating maniac as soon as we stepped off the plane, so the only relaxation I got was a daily one hour foot reflexology massage at Lek’s which was divine.

It was only a 3.5 hour plane ride back to Colombo but I managed to finish most of the book, and the remainder I devoured once I reached home and was safely tucked away in my air-con’d room. It was that good. I had forgotten what an amazing writer Deanna Raybourn is. She knows how to keep you hooked, and her characters are so endearing you really want them to sort out their problems. And find the potential killer amongst them, of course.

In Silent on the Moor, we are re-united with Lady Julia Grey, her sister Portia, her brother Valerius, her maid Morag (a reformed lady of the night) and the enigmatic, thunderous and half-Gypsy Nicholas Brisbane, the man who has captured Julia’s heart.

In this, the third installment in the series, Julia has attached herself to Portia who has agreed to oversee the refurbishment of Grimsgrave Manor, Brisbane’s new home in Yorkshire. Theirs is a complex relationship where their entanglement defies society’s sensibilities regarding birth and class, and although Brisbane tries to fight the inevitable, Julia doesn’t make it easy for him. She’s finally come alive after the death of her husband and wants to clarify their relationship once and for all.

To complicate matters, Brisbane has purchased an ancient house once belonging to the Allenby family who can trace their lineage back to Alfred the Great. A mother and two daughters are all that is left of this once great but troubled family and Brisbane has agreed to let them stay until their cottage is ready. When Julia arrives, she is greeted by the sight of Ailith Allenby, a great Saxon beauty who has known Nicholas since his childhood. Julia is left with the feeling that something is not quite right at this ancient manor house.

In this terrifyingly bleak countryside reminiscent of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, with change comes the unearthing of old secrets that should have remained buried. Julia and Brisbane are thrust into a world of lies and revenge and they must try to keep their lives as well as their love intact.

All in all, I give Silent on the Moor full marks. It’s atmospheric, filled with historical detail and written exceedingly well with a fantastic plot. Originally this series was supposed to be a trilogy, but boy am I glad that Deanna Raybourn will be continuing with her Lady Julia Grey series. Rumour has it the next book will be called Dark Road to Darjeeling. I cannot wait.


I normally stumble upon books while trawling through Amazon or wandering around in bookshops, but I’m increasingly finding recommendations through the blogs I read. And some of them are pure gems. So thank you!

Here are some of the books I’ve read this year that have stuck in my mind and won’t leave me alone:

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson which I first heard about on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist. I can’t believe I hadn’t read his books before although I think I’ve seen them in various bookshops. But this is the first book in a ten book sequence and it’s really brilliant. The epic sweep of the story, the excellent writing, the depth with which Erikson spins his tale of revenge, love and war is staggering.

Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson which I found on A Work in Progress is a non-fiction book about the so called ‘surplus’ women struggling to carve out an independant life after WWI while mourning the loss of their loved ones and kissing their dreams of marriage and children good bye. Extremely readable and you are left with such admiration for these woman who stood up to convention and grabbed their chance of happiness with both hands.

Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn was recommended on Me and My Big Mouth. It’s got mystery, history and romance and a very sexy leading man. I’m saving the third installment in the series for a rainy day. Can’t wait.

In the Woods by Tana French. I can’t remember exactly on which blog I first heard about this book and it’s sequel The Likeness (which I haven’t read yet) because I think it wowed a lot of readers and reviewers with its incredibly well written prose and fully realised characters. An amazing debut.

thehiddenstaircase murderonthelinks theroserent

My love affair with mysteries began with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I was living in Bangkok as a child, and opposite our street (Sukhumvit Soi 12) was a small English language bookshop called Asia Bookstore. I don’t know if it still exists but it was my favourite place in Thailand. Because English books were prime commodities in the thriving ex-pat community, I was rationed books. Luckily I went to a British school that had a huge library so I was well stocked.

I discovered Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie on a dusty bookshelf in my grandparents’ house on while on a trip to Sri Lanka when I was nine. The book was wedged between an old picture diary of my mother’s from when she was seven (I don’t know how it got there from Japan) and some Sinhalese books. Awaiting me at the end of the novel was the biggest shock of my life. I was totally flabbergasted and unprepared for the identity of the murderer. I went back through the book picking out the clues and red herrings and was hooked on Christie ever since. It was then only a matter of time before I started reading Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L. Sayers.

It was when I was at boarding school in the UK that I chanced upon Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mystery The Rose Rent in the school library. Of course, what first drew me to the book was the title. How romantic and mysterious it seemed. I was then fifteen and was gutted that I was unable to study medieval and tudor English history for GCSE. Our syllabus was all about the two world wars. So I leapt into Peters’ medieval world and was entranced by the images and names from that period. And so my love affair with historical mysteries began. It’s funny how now I can’t get enough of the interwar period.

Crime and Mysteries

Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael series)
Lindsey Davis (Falco series)
Paul Doherty (Brother Athelstan series, Hugh Corbett series, White Rose Murders – Tudor mysteries)
Elizabeth Eyre (Rennaissance series)
Candace Robb (Apothecary Rose – Owen Archer series)
Deanna Raybourn (Julia Grey mysteries)
Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody series)
Susanna Gregory (Matthew Bartholomew series)
Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey series)
Agatha Christie (Poirot, Miss Marple, Harlequin)
Ngaio Marsh (Roderick Alleyn mysteries)
Margery Allingham (Campion mysteries)
Umberto Eco (Foucault’s Pendulum, The Name of the Rose)
Caleb Carr (The Alienist, The Angel of Darkness)
Eliott Pattison (Inspector Shan Tibetan mysteries)
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child (Agent Pendergast series)
John Dunning (Bookman series)
Eleanor Updale (Montmorency series)
Christopher Fowler (Bryant & May series)
David Roberts (Lord Edward Corinth & Verity Browne series)
Seishi Yokomizo (Kindaichi Kousuke series – in Japanese only)
Akimitsu Takagi (The Tattoo Murder Mystery)

As I’ve been reading murder mysteries for an insanely long time, I’m sure I’ve forgotten some important titles. I think I caught the first wave of popular historical mysteries with Ellis Peters, Paul Doherty, Candace Robb and others. I spent many a happy hour looking for exciting new titles at the Murder One bookshop on Charing Cross Road which sadly closed it’s bookshop this year, but the business is still ongoing and they have an excellent mail order service. Now there’s a second wave with the rising popularity of C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Sheldrake series beginning with Dissolution. Who can resist such a great title? The word alone conjures such rich imagery. You know there’s going to be murder, darkness, fire and, of course, monks and you can almost hear the violent clashing of swords.

I also went through a heady phase at university when I was enamoured of everything Italian, especially Venice. Donna Leon, Magdalen Nabb and Michael Dibdin are all old favourites.

Reading my list of favourite books, it looks as though I have a thing for titles which feature the word rose. But then in the medieval world, the rose was not just a rose. It was a powerful symbol of Christian imagery especially the Virgin Mary, the universe, purity, loyalty and love.

theapothecaryrose thewhiterosemurders thenameoftherose