Dark Road to Darjeeling is the fourth book in one of my favorite series. Here are my reviews of the first three books:
***** There are minor spoilers for earlier books in this review ****
The Premise: Lady Julia Grey and her now-husband Nicolas Brisbane have been honeymooning for 8 months, when her sister Portia and brother Plum cross paths with them in Cairo. Portia's former lover Jane has written from India with the news that she's pregnant and now a widow. She doesn't explicitly say it, but Portia senses that there is something wrong in her letters and suspects foul play in the death of Jane's husband Freddie Cavendish. So of course, Julia and Brisbane, Portia and Plum journey to India, to give Jane support during the last few months of her pregnancy and to secretly investigate the possibility of Cavendish's murder.
My Thoughts: As with the earlier books, the writing beautifully describes a setting that's in a different place and time, in this case a valley isolated from the world where Jane now resides in a tea estate: "The Peacocks is the name of the estate, a tea garden on the border of Sikkim, outside of Darjeeling, right up in the foothills of the Himalayas.”
Here, a small English community lives - the Cavendishs who own the plantation (Harry is the late Freddie's younger brother, and Camellia Cavendish is their aunt and runs the household), the White Rajah (a mysterious older man who lives in a ruined monastery above the valley), the Pennyfeathers (a clergyman, his free-spirited artist wife Cassandra and two children Primrose and Robin), Dr Llewellyn (a grieving man who lost his wife after a tiger attack), and finally Lucy and Emma Phipps, cousins to the Marches (last seen in the second book of the series). Surrounding these are their numerous servants, including twins sisters Lalita, a cook, and Miss Thorne, governess to the Pennyfeather children.
As Julia and the others make acquaintances with those around them, it becomes clear that the mystery of Freddie's death is going to be a tough one. Almost everyone could have had a reason or the means to have killed him, if in fact he was murdered. Officially he died of an infection after being bitten by a small, usually harmless snake, not something that would typically kill a healthy man, but India is a place where such things happen. In fact, as I kept reading this book, it began to feel like the valley is not kind at all to those who settle there. One tragedy or another seems to have befallen everyone there, particularly the English.
In the meantime, the honeymoon is over for Brisbane and Julia, and the two are trying to figure out the compromises that make up married life, without being the one who actually makes the compromise! These two are as as in love as ever, but they're clearly human. Julia wants to be a partner in Brisbane's investigations, while Brisbane wants his wife to stay away from danger. This is probably the first book where I really thought about the problems in both of their perspectives, and I felt like neither was truly right or wrong. I think before this book, I was with Julia in expecting that she should be able to investigate, but now I see where Brisbane comes from. On the other hand, both characters also do things that probably aren't best for their marriage when they try to exert their will over the other. Brisbane continues with his mind games to keep Julia out of trouble, while Julia hides things from Brisbane in order to "win" the race to figure out the mystery and prove she's an equal. Clearly these characters are imperfect and I like that they have a lot of room to grow, but I the previous books didn't leave me as frustrated with Brisbane and Julia as much as Dark Road to Darjeeling did. It left me with a generally perturbed feeling to uncover their shortcomings the way they were presented here.
Overall: As I've come to expect, I liked the book: it has all the Raybourn hallmarks (lovely writing, unique characters, beautiful setting), but I didn't close the pages with the same feeling of happy satisfaction as the earlier books, so it's not my favorite of the series. Conflict and the overall tragic events put this volume into a "bittersweet" category. Compared to the earlier books I felt unsettled after reading this one, but I still love and recommend this series, and I am looking forward to what happens next.
See Michelle Read - positive review
Tempting Persephone - positive review
Monkey Bear Reviews - B- (I'm surprised by how similar I feel to this review - read it after writing mine)
Book Harbinger - positive
Babbling about Books, and More - B