Page count: 388 pages
“Dark road to Darjeeling” is the fourth book in the Victorian crime-romance series about Lady Julia Grey. At the beginning of the book, Julia and her husband, the professional sleuth Nicholas Brisbane, are about to finish their honeymoon around the Mediterranean when they are interrupted by two of Julia’s siblings, Portia and Plum. Desperate to have a child of her own, Portia’s lover Jane left her to move to India and marry Freddie Cavendish. However, within months of arriving at the Cavendishes’ estate in the Valley of Eden in India, Freddie dies of a seemingly innocuous snake bite turned septic. Jane is pregnant and worries that her husband’s death may in f act have been murder, in which case their unborn child and heir may also be at risk. Portia, Plum, Julia and Brisbane therefore travel to India to investigate Freddie’s death and keep Jane safe from harm.
At the beginning of the book, I worried that Deanna Raybourn might have fallen into the same trap as Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series (see my review of “Tears of pearl” here) because Julia and Brisbane kept arguing over her involvement in his investigations as a private detective. However, where “Tears of pearl” remained dull and uninspired throughout, “Dark road to Darjeeling” quickly revealed itself as a delight of a book. As upper class women of immaculate breeding, Julia and Portia have had every advantage in life. But rather than making them snobbish or snooty, this allows them to make witty remarks in the most awkward of situations. Already on page 2, when they are about to cross a river on rafts pulled by muddy, stinking buffalos, Portia remarks to Julia that “We are Englishwomen. We are not cowed by a little authentic flavour.” Whereupon Julia, determined to set an example of English rectitude for her bickering siblings, steps onto the nearest raft and promptly sinks into the river. A prime example of the comic relief that peppers this book throughout!
Adding to this great sense of humor is the beautiful setting and plethora of eccentric family and neighbours in the Valley of Eden, almost all of whom are suspects in Freddie’s death. This results in a complex and unpredictable plot where the reader goes on repeated wild goose chases alongside Lady Julia. Best of all, however, is the wonderful and multifaceted relationship between Julia and Brisbane. Highly intelligent, passionate and strong willed, both are used to being obeyed by others, and so theirs is not a dull and vapid marriage. Rather it is a marriage of equals with the ups and downs that entails, though the love suffusing their relationship is never left to doubt. Although this would have been highly unorthodox for their time, Julia and Brisbane’s relationship is the book’s strongest aspect and the main reason why Deanna Raybourn’s crime-romance novel succeeds where “Tears of pearl” failed.