I liked this book, although it is a bit darker than I usually read. It is a historical mystery taking place in the end of the 19th century. After a few years of unhappy marriage, the protagonist Julia’s husband dies. She feels adrift but liberated, until a stranger drops a sinister hint into her mind: her husband might’ve been murdered. At first, she wouldn’t believe him, but after finding an ominous note among her late husband’s papers, she starts doubting herself. Perhaps she should conduct a discreet investigation. And the only one she could ask for help in such a distasteful endeavor is that same stranger, Nicolas Brisbane.
The mystery and investigation plot, while mildly interesting, is not the best part of this novel. The author’s strength lies in characters. Each one of them is alive and full of contradictions. Even the smallest ones, with only a few lines of dialog and extremely limited page space, have their own unique personalities. No typecast extras in this story.
Julia, the heroine, is a product of her time and her family. She is as arrogant as only an aristocratic woman could be, but she is also capable of compassion towards less fortunate. Stubborn and naïve, she is struggling to understand herself, to find her own path in the world. Her relationship with Nicolas Brisbane is so complex, neither she, nor I, the reader, could decipher it. There is liking and mistrust between them, disdain and attraction, respect and intense curiosity.
I liked Julia, but I disliked Brisbane. He is too hard, too autocratic, too full of alpha male superiority shit. Combined with his deep insecurities, such an unholy brew doesn’t allow any softness to creep into his psyche. He is rude and boorish and vulnerable, as much a product of his upbringing as Julia is, and just as multifaceted. Maybe if I liked him better, I’d rate this book higher.
The mystery itself wasn’t very mysterious, and the pace was rather slow, but the emotional roller-coasters of the characters kept me reading. Although I guessed the identity of the culprit long before the author unmasked him, the motivation behind the crime was original in the extreme. I didn’t even think in that direction.
I also want to point out that most people in this book have secrets: big ones and small ones, foul ones and banal ones. Once again, this story confirmed me in my belief that secrets are poisonous. They have a tendency to come out at the most unfortunate times and in the most inconvenient circumstances and bite their keeper. It was entertaining to untangle the intricate knots of secrets in this tale and see what that does to all the characters.
Recommended to anyone who likes historical mysteries.