Dark Road To Darjeeling is the fourth installment in the Lady Julia Grey series – although I suppose it’s the Lady Julia Brisbane series now that she’s married private enquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane. They are at the end of a rather extended honeymoon, seeing parts of the world when Lady Julia’s sister Portia and brother Plum appear and request the two come to India with them. Portia’s former lover, who left her in Silent on the Moor to marry and go to India in order to have a family, is now a widow, and heavily pregnant. Portia has received several letters from her and is concerned that the death of Jane’s husband Freddie was not an accident. Jane seems in a fragile state of mind and Portia is worried for the safety of her and her unborn child.
Freddie was the owner of a tea plantation and because of his sudden death and their swift marriage, Jane is not sure if the estate is entailed down the male line. If Jane gives birth to a son, the son will be the heir to all the plantation and estate. If Jane has a daughter, she will most likely be free to leave and the estate will go to another male relation. Due to the uncertain nature of Freddie’s death, Portia worries what will happen if someone killed him to gain control of the estate and then Jane delivers a son and heir. She begs Lady Julia and Nicholas to come to the estate and stage some discreet investigations under the guise of Portia and Lady Julia coming to be with Jane in her confinement. Sensing that Brisbane is just about fed up with their peaceful and investigation-free honeymoon, and agreeable to helping her sister and Jane, Lady Julia agrees and they travel to India.
Once at Peacocks, the Cavendish estate, Lady Julia (who has lost Brisbane along the way in Calcutta, caught up in some other business) starts an investigation trying to be as discreet as possible. She is determined to prove herself to Brisbane in order to be considered an equal partner by his side and believes that if she wraps up the investigation before he even arrives, he will be forced to accept that she can do this sort of work. She questions, as delicately as possible, Freddie’s remaining relatives and a couple of local neighbours and Jane but is unable to really discover enough to make a conclusion before Brisbane arrives on the scene. She does learn that a few old friends from another investigation, are living remarkably close by.
As the time of Jane’s baby’s arrival draws closer, Lady Julia and Brisbane are drawn into the world of Peacocks and its surrounds and there is more than one mystery going on in the beautiful shadow of the Himalayas. And a dangerous creature that just might kill one of them before the investigation can be complete.
I ordered this book after reading the first 3 from my local library and discovering that they didn’t yet have this one. It arrived when I was on my way out to do some shopping and as soon as I got home I sat down and devoured it in one sitting. I love the fact that Lady Julia and Brisbane’s marriage hasn’t just set them on the path to bliss and they have very real disagreements and flat-out fights that are similar to the sorts of scenes they had in the previous three novels, but with a new twist. I suspect they will always have these sorts of differences of opinions quite simply because of the sort of male Brisbane is and the sort of female Lady Julia is. They are very much progressive for their time and place but Brisbane is also still very much an alpha male in charge, no matter how he might occasionally indulge Lady Julia.
I enjoyed the different setting in this novel, it was nice to get away from England and visit 19th century India. Even though a lot of the inhabitants were wealthy English people who had gone abroad for a new life on the continent, it was still interesting to visit a different setting, especially one quite different to England. There was enough local flavour and tidbits included, such as the bit about servants of different ethnic backgrounds doing certain tasks and not others.
As always with these novels, I found everything about it to be wonderful – the characters, the setting, the mystery. I always like the inclusion of various members of Lady Julia’s family, especially in smaller doses. The large gatherings at March House can be a bit exhausting and busy but I do like when there’s one or two siblings lurking around and getting to know them better. Portia has always been a favourite of mine and I felt for her muchly in this novel. The only thing I probably didn’t enjoy so much was the sad happening at the end, which I didn’t see coming! I spent three quarters of the book fearing that this person was in danger and then relaxed because it was all over and they weren’t and then bam! They were just gone! Very very effective in terms of getting the most emotional reaction and impact from that event.
I’ve now caught up with all of these books so this begins my least favourite experience with a new series: awaiting each book! I hope there’s not too long to wait for the fifth novel and it is released sometime in 2011 because I’m on edge for it now!