A Grave Matter, Anna Lee Huber, (Or there’s more of gravy than of grave about this…)

<<TBR CHALLENGE: FEBRUARY 2016>>

There is a place where book series go to perish.

It’s just outside of BlueCastle. You walk down the green valley and take a sharp right and there before you, it lies. It is vast, filled with waist-high grass, crumbling headstones, and mounds, where important things repose.

Hundreds, if not thousands of book series that I have started, and never really finished are entombed here. Stranded. Languishing. In a Schrödinger state they lie, some neither started nor finished, alive nor dead; they are a silent multitude collecting dust or being used as coffee coasters. (Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa).

But, a beacon, in the form of Wendy the SuperLibrarian’s TBR Challenge shone from above, providing salvation. Though only for a chosen one. A single series deserving of catch up.

Thus as Wendy decrees…So Valancy does. But what to pick? There are SOO many – TOO many. The decision overwhelmed us, so…I closed my eyes and chose at random.

Ta Da.

A Grave Matter, Lady Darby Mystery #3, Anna Lee Huber

I came across The Lady Darby Mysteries around the same time I started and subsequently stopped, unfinished, (oh no another!) Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series.

I was initially intrigued by the perhaps unconscious similarities they both presented:

  • Heroines were Ladies (i.e. Of the gentry)
  • Heroines were widows
  • Heroines were shunned (slightly or completely) by society for things their husbands had done
  • Heroines had a penchant for coming across dead bodies and becoming embroiled in murders, mysteries and chariot chases across towns.
  • Heroines had a monosyllabic, bedroomed-eyed, broad chested counterpart who reluctantly let them tag along for the detecting.

See?

Is that not interesting?

The actual books themselves aren’t really the same at all, what with differing plots, misadventures and villains, BUT they are of a kind. Like how a duck and a flamingo inhabit water-areas and are both birds. Although I am pretty sure one works better than the other, when it comes to deep frying and serving with plum sauce…

At some point I stopped reading both and as random selection picked Huber’s series back up for me, I was interested to see if there was a reason for my cold-hearted mid series drop.

TL;DR: Yep. But with provisos.

If you would prefer slightly more fodder, I outline below. (SOME SPOILERS ALERT)

For those new to the series, Lady Kiera Darby is a widow, a recluse and an artist. Married to a celebrated doctor, via her father’s arrangement when she was only just out; she was discovered to be the artistic hand behind anatomy illustrations her husband had put his name to. In the midst of his death, a trial and all sorts of highly outrageous accusations, she was picked up by the scandal sheets as kind of female jack-the-ripper persona who was involved in body stealing for nefarious purposes and has since been struggling against the horrific ramifications of those stories.

Her knowledge of anatomy, combined with her artistic talents, is of use in the various murders that come across her path, making her invaluable to Sebastian Gage, an Inquiry Agent who luckily seems to have been assigned to these last three cases/books. The initial angst between them, developed into attraction and each subsequent book expounds on this growing relationship, whilst they are thrown together for an assortment of adventures.

A Grave Matter, catches up with Kiera, after the end of Mortal Arts, returning (upset) to her childhood home with her brother Trevor and attending Hogmanay celebrations. But a caretaker is murdered and a grave dug up at the near by Abbey, and not only is Lady Darby needed for her anatomy skills, she writes to Gage; asking him to assist in the solving of these murder/robberies.

‘When Gage arrives, he reveals that the incident at the Abbey was not the first—some fiend is digging up old bones and holding them for ransom. Now Kiera and Gage must catch the grave robber and put the case to rest…before another victim winds up six feet under.’

This is an interesting series. (I had forgotten that!) Keira is very much a character bound and influenced by her times. If you are after a modernistic heroine, who jumps the gun, acts without thought and constantly rejects 19th century parameters, then you is barking up the wrong tree.

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because I couldn’t resist… 

Lady Darby is constantly constrained by societies perception of her, their views on women, on doctoring, on art and despite being talented and smart, is reluctant to venture opinions without being asked. Her family is over protective, her sister nosy and whilst they all have her best interests in heart, I always wanted Kiera to want MORE.

She always capitulated. Was always cast down by the trauma of her marriage. People made remarks and she would be struck down with mortification. If there was one thing I was hopeful to see a progression of, it was her backbone and the growth thereof. Alas, there has been SO LITTLE.

Gage, an absorbing character, sees her potential and encourages her, but at the end of each book, where there flourishes independence and I have burgeoning hope; the next novel kicks me in the pants and it’s like we’re starting all over again from scratch.

The GOOD news is that Gage does finally admit officially that he has feelings for Keira. This is a nice change from punishing kisses in alcoves and then pretending it hadn’t never happened like in the previous one. There is much more growth in their relationship. Still, it’s kind of a sucky relationship. He has secrets and doesn’t like to share them. Keira talks about how many secrets she has, which she doesn’t want to talk about, and then promptly divulges them.

All in all, it’s a little unsatisfactory.

And I think this is where I ran into a problem with the Lady Julia series as well. There is too much angst. When the hero and heroine are finally together, there is never any real security, and it feels like they are going to fracture at any minute. Also, I never feel like Gage (or the Lady Julia counterpart: Nicholas Brisbane) really, truly appreciates and celebrates their heroine. There is a level that is reached and beyond that is dismissal, and judgement and the teensiest bit of annoyance at being shown up.

I like, really LIKE Lady Darby. Her husband was horrid, indeed her previous married life was horrible. She was basically sold to a rich old doctor who picked her because of her artistic talent, and then used it as a way to subjugate and stifle her existence. That is pretty awful stuff no matter what the century.

I like that she doesn’t act too outrageously for the era; no one does really, in fact quite the opposite.

***

“Only debutantes wear pale pink, Trevor. It’s insipid on older women.”

He turned to me in chagrin. “Oh.” I couldn’t help but smile. “It’s all right, dearest. Had you known that, I would have worried you were coming down with something.”

He grinned sheepishly. “Yes, well, half the time I don’t even notice what color waistcoat Shep is handing me. Is it blue or green?”

“Today it’s slate gray.” He arched a single eyebrow in irritation. “Well, if we’re being precise.”

I shrugged and turned toward the window. “You should have known better than to ask an artist.”

***

She doesn’t baulk at escorts, she’s happy enough to go along with her dominating male family members, and if I am completely honest, there are times when I am yelling at my kindle ‘Come on Kiera – go down that dark forsaken road! Check out that ruined Abbey by yourself!’

The mysteries aren’t brain surgery, but I often think how hard it must be to think up a mystery and then write it so no one can guess, so I don’t tend to judge too harshly around this. My caveat is though, if I can figure it out, at least make the whole journey interesting for me. And A Grave Matter definitely gives it a good ole English try. It isn’t very scary or suspenseful, but I was interested to see how the whole thing played out.

So, more:

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than:

 

And though this is no wallpaper historical, (it is meticulously researched and really well executed), I suppose I just wished for more. For Kiera. She subsists, but never really lives. She is shunted from one person’s house to another, always hiding in the background, cringing at what people say about her; the insults that are flung at her. She seems to have such thin skin, and bleeds so easily, I really just want to feed her up and make her more resilient.

It wasn’t unenjoyable, but would I continue with the series? Well, yes, BUT only when I am feeling particularly buoyant, so all the drama llama and dreary tones don’t weigh me down.

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What? Peter Pan is DEEP y’all…

Sincerely,

Valancy: currently re-watching Muppets Christmas Carol, and hugging a cat – cos that last bit with the ghost of the future? Still gives me the heeby-jeebies…even though I can (and do occasionally) adult.

🙂

Header Image:  Edwaert Collier – Vanitas – Still Life with Books and Manuscripts and a Skull, 1663

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13 thoughts on “A Grave Matter, Anna Lee Huber, (Or there’s more of gravy than of grave about this…)

  1. I’ve read series like that (characters take one step forward by end of book then next book in the series? WHAMO! Two steps back) and it’s really frustrating. I don’t expect leaping tall buildings over the course of one book – but at least some minimal growth is a good thing. In fact, it keeps the characters and the series from growing stale/old before it’s time.

    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree – (although it’s probably more realistic than I would like to admit :/ ), but the backwards growth thing always makes me go ‘seriously??? have we NOT just been here for two hundred pages already? huh? huh?’
      Give me SOMETHING dammit! lol.

      Like

  2. I skim-read this, not because it isn’t a fabulous review … it is! But, ta-dum, Miss Bates has the first in the series in the TBR … and as February was the work month from hell and she couldn’t make her TBR review date … all to say, I’ll be back to read with greater care once The Anatomist’s Wife makes its way up the bathtubreading TBR pile. Yes, that’s how bad the TBR is: I have sub-categories. :-\

    P.S. The Riverside Shakespeare, a hefty tome, which I once planned to read in its entirety, now holds open the home office door to the home office that houses the bulging, tottering TBR bookshelves …

    Like

    1. Oh no! A heretofore unprecedented danger inherent to the series-catch-up! lol…

      Sad that you had a terrible work month :/ (I have heard that hugging cats can sometimes help – if not, maybe capacious glasses of wine…?)

      And it’s when your sub-categories start intermingling and plotting, then you have to be on your guard…I like to keep the mysteries and true crime in separate rooms — just so they don’t get any ideas.

      The Riverside Shakespeare? LOL. I wonder if he feels as aggrieved as my Complete Works of Poe, that I use to balance my desk fan on in my study (it’s just EXACTLY the right height – I am MUTI-TASKING (!) 🙂

      Like

  3. *they are a silent multitude collecting dust or being used as coffee coasters.*
    snickers

    *Like how a duck and a flamingo inhabit water-areas and are both birds*
    and
    *If there was one thing I was hopeful to see a progression of, it was her backbone and the growth thereof*
    LOL

    And really, KIEra?! Where do they come up with these names? (or am I showing my lamentable roots by asking such a question?!)

    And oh dear, those Dobby statues?

    I keep meaning to read the Lady Julia mysteries and it’s good to know that they’re a bit on the angsty side, which isn’t really my cup of tea. Knowing this will make me approach them with the right set of expectations!

    Looking forward to some more of your TBR-r-ing results!

    Like

    1. LOL! 😛
      I totally agree re Keira name – sometimes they seem so MODERN/exotic. Why aren’t there heroines called Betty or Connie? Or Peggy or Rhoda — these are all 18th century names, but I haven’t really come across them as potential heroines with manly suitors…

      I do remember being frustrated with the Lady Julia books, there always seemed to be MISUNDERSTANDINGS due too lack of communication – there’s enough unfocused angst in life, without having to read through it in books as well!

      But, since I did feel a *little* different on my Darby pick up…I may have to give them another try and see if I still feel that way!

      🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. On the one hand, the idea of a heroine who is written as belonging to the time period is very attractive. On the other hand, starting a series where “will they, won’t they?” never gets resolved? Yeah, not so much.

    Still, a period appropriate heroine! Decision, decisions…

    Like

    1. It IS a conundrum!

      And I do like the fact that the romance (mostly) doesn’t headline all the time, so although there is a bit of lingering glances and heartfelt sighs…the plot also gets a bit of the spotlight too.

      And as you say…period-appropriate heroines – they are a rare and scarcely seen breed 🙂

      Thanks so much for your comments!

      Like

  5. Great review!!
    I think it’s important that authors stay true to the time period to maintain the authenticity of their stories but I still think there is opportunity for growth in their characters and a willingness to step out of the box. Thinking about Georgette Heyer’s heroines, some were a little outrageous and only saved by a relative who had close connections with royalty, but others were allowed a little more freedom without completing alienating themselves from society.
    I’m all for growth and unanticipated behaviour in the characters, particularly in a series, that’s what keeps it interesting enough to read rather than being used as doorstops or to balance desk fans!

    Like

    1. That is definitely so true! Plus since you have invoked the Mighty Heyer – I shall now have to go and read one. (*scurries away to Heyer bookshelves*) They have their OWN special bookcase… 🙂

      Like

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