One of my favorite fictional Victorian pairs is that of the mystery-solving duo of Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane. I have loyally followed them from Silent in the Grave to their most recent adventure in a lush yet remote region in India via Dark Road to Darjeeling. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books of Ms Raybourn's Julia Grey novels, I was a bit disappointed with the third one and a taste of another (non-series) book wasn't too my liking. I suppose these had led me to approach Dark Road to Darjeeling with some trepidation.
Ms Raybourn soon put all my fears to rest. I think that she was back in top form while writing this mystery. Julia and Nicholas, accompanied by her siblings Portia and Plum, travel to Sikkim to help Portia's former lover Jane find the truth behind her husband Freddie Cavendish's untimely death. The isolated region in the eastern Himalayas where Jane now lives (called the Valley of Eden) straddles Sikkim and Nepal, and Julia soon finds out that it takes a certain sort of madness to live in such a place, especially when she digs deeper into the secrets of the individuals and families there. I felt that this particularly rich setting added to the mood, because the assembly of likely culprits wouldn't have seemed so mysterious had the story been situated in an English countryside.
This rather unique setting also encourages Julia to be a little bolder in her investigations. I've always liked how Julia Grey is (outwardly) a proper Victorian woman but because of her rather unorthodox upbringing is also quite adventurous and forward-thinking. In Dark Road to Darjeeling, Julia and Nicholas are entering a new phase of their relationship and their dynamic is somewhat different. But circumstances finally push Julia to reassess her role in the relationship, and I applaud how it was approached here.
Another thing that I've always enjoyed about Ms Raybourn's work is how she adeptly weaves some family drama or personal conflict into every mystery. What's worth nothing here is that as Ms Raybourn gives us a glimpse into the sickness and depravity of the human mind, she also manages to tug at our heartstrings by adding elements to help us understand the different family relationships of those involved. There are recurring characters here that may throw off new readers, but their background is adequately explained. The impact of their involvement in this story may be somewhat diminished for new readers but I hope that this does not dampen anyone's reading experience.
NOTE: This review is done in response to the Whodunit Reading Challenge hosted by Mary, Myra, and Fats at Gathering Books.
Reading this has made me quite interested in Sikkim (it's been a dream of mine for quite some time now to visit the country of Bhutan, and finding out how close it is to this Indian state has further intrigued me). It became a state of India in 1975 and to this day is recognized as one of the country's least populous states. Despite this, it is still home to a variety of races, cultures, and languages. To know more about Sikkim, visit their state's Information and PR Department.