BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #36: Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn
The fourth book in the Lady Julia Grey series, Dark Road to Darjeeling sees Lady Julia newly married to Nicholas Brisbane and on an extended honeymoon. The honeymoon is interrupted in Egypt by her sister Portia and brother Plum, asking the newlyweds to accompany them to Darjeeling to investigate the suspicious death of Portia’s ex-girlfriend’s husband. Off they go, travelling across late Victorian India towards the hill country around Darjeeling, at the time a British colony. Once they arrive at the family plantation to investigate the death, they meet a small but intriguing cast of characters, including Jane’s in-laws, the very strange minister’s family, a drunk doctor and, oddly enough, her murderous cousins from earlier book Silent in the Sanctuary.
Very quickly it appears that though Jane’s husband wasn’t a very good heir for the plantation, there weren’t a lot of great reasons to bump him off. The storyline is primarily involved with Brisbane and Julia coming to terms with married life and their expectations of each other. Julia wants very much to be an active partner in Brisbane’s detective business, while he would prefer she stay safely out of the investigations. Each stage of the story is part of a negotiation between them as Julia comes to understand the dangers, and why Brisbane feels the way he does, and Brisbane comes to understand Julia’s need to be involved as well.
I felt the mystery aspect of this book was a little weak. No one had a particularly good motive, and it wasn’t too clear that there even was a murder. To a certain extent, it seemed like a way to get the characters to a beautiful location to be able to describe it. Rather than a well-planned mystery, there were random plot twists. I could imagine the author thinking “what would be the least likely thing to occur here, hhmmm… a meteor falls from the sky? No, too easy. I know, a yeti comes from Tibet, steals Lady Julia’s necklace because he likes the sparkles, but she thinks the murderer stole the necklace, leading Brisbane to stake out a pawnshop and catch the murderer fencing the murder weapon instead.”
I like this series, but as far as plot goes, this book was a weak link. Where it excelled was in place and character descriptions. The minister’s family was fascinating: his wife was raised in a free-love commune and was trying to raise their children with similar principles in the midst of the Victorian empire, resulting in the daughter refusing to become an adult as that would pretty much dictate her entering the marriage market. There is also a very strange old man called the White Rajah, who lives in an abandoned monastery amid crumbling splendor. The valley the story occurs in sounds beautiful and strange, hosting both European plants and Indian ones equally well, and with views of glorious snow covered mountains, and deadly tigers roaming around haphazardly for no good reason.
The area the book was set in was what made the story for me. I have never wanted to go to India (frankly, it sounds way too hot and crowded for my comfort) but this made me think that maybe I could handle the Darjeeling area.