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The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

I did some reading over the holiday weekend that in the run up to the holiday I hadn't had as much time to do.  I read two and a half books and am halfway through another.  Reviews to follow on those.  This review is for Deanna Raybourn's The Dead Travel Fast-- a rare stand alone novel for the author, who has the Lady Grey mystery series to keep her busy.  I wish she had more stand alone novels because I really liked this one, and currently I'm avoiding getting sucked into another series or author to follow.  There are too many authors/series that I already follow, and sometimes it is agony waiting for the next release or installment to drop--AGONY!

I could easily turn this post into one that obsesses over the new books that I'm waiting for (im)patiently to drop in 2011, but I won't.  It'll be hard, but I will restrain myself and return to the title at hand: The Dead Travel Fast.  Now.  As an aside: with most books you can see why they are titled what they are--the titles make sense and connect to or relate to the story.  With other books one puzzles over the title and wonders what its connection is to the story because, well, it doesn't make sense.  This is one of those books: its title doesn't really make any sense to me.  There aren't any dead travelling fast or really travelling anywhere in this book.

In the wake of her beloved grandfather's death, Theodora Lestrange, determined to earn her keep as a writer, takes leave of her beloved sister and Scottish homeland with a small inheritance and three dresses to her name.  No easy feat in 1853, she travels across an ocean and a continent to a remote castle that oversees an impoverished village in the Transylvanian countryside to visit a much loved boarding school friend, Cosmina.  Cosmina is due to be married to Count Andrei Dragulescu, the master of the castle and village alike.  Upon Theodora's arrival, all is not as she expected it both regarding her beloved friend's betrothal and the machinations and manipulations of those who live within castle walls.  The villagers themselves are intensely held in thrall of the terrifying legends of strigoi (vampires) and werewolves who are said to plague the surrounding forests at night.

When a serving maid is found murdered in the castle all signs point to the visitation of a strigoi whose origins are much closer to the family and whose intention seems to be the destruction of clan Dragulescu.  It becomes clear to both Theodora and Count Andrei, between whom a heady romantic attraction and affair has developed, that no one who lives at the castle, especially Theodora, is safe.  Theodora, torn between believing the villagers' legends of the sinister supernatural or hunting for a much more believable, logical human cause for the misfortunes befalling the castle inhabitants, realizes too late that all is not as it seems both within the castle walls and among those she believed her friends.

Gothic, dark, Victorian are all words that describe this thrilling story with a romance at its heart shot heavily through with the haunting, mysterious, mythological, historically steeped atmosphere of a cold, decaying, remote Transylvanian castle built into the side of the Carpathian mountain range.  It is breathlessly suspenseful as much for the intrigue as the Victorian romance.  It is a story that takes several darkly unexpected, pulse pounding twists before arriving at its shocking, bloodcurdling conclusion.  A vividly drawn atmosphere and vibrant characters depicted in the gothic Victorian style in addition to the mysterious, dark intrigue of the murders and their provenance make this book hard to put down.

I highly recommend you check it out the next time you're at the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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