A Curious Beginning
Veronica Speedwell Mystery, Book #1
By Deanna Raybourn
Author’s website: http://deannaraybourn.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.
But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.
I am a big fan of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series, and I have been waiting for a book from her with action and characters that I could love the way I adore Lady Julia and Brisbane. Veronica Speedwell and Stoker prove to be a more than satisfactory alternative.
Veronica Speedwell is not your average Victorian young lady. The last thing she wants is to get married (taking a few lovers, however, is quite another matter). What she really craves is adventure so when her guardian, an “aunt” who is her last relative, dies, she is ready to take on the world, butterfly net in hand. Before Aunt Nell’s grave is even filled with dirt, Veronica experiences a home break in and a stranger arrives asserting that Veronica is in danger. Baron von Stauffenbach claims to have known her mother and father and will tell all he knows after she is safe. He entrusts her to the care of Stoker, a natural historian who owes the baron a favor. When the pair learns that the baron has been murdered in his own home and that Stoker is the prime suspect, they flee London and set out to find the real killer and truth about Veronica’s past. Thus begins the rip roaring adventure involving scandal at the highest level, politics, secrets that are worth killing to keep, and a stint with the traveling curiosities show.
Everything about A Curious Beginning is over the top (in a good way). Veronica is far too intelligent and obstinate for her own good. She fancies herself an explorer and an independent, modern woman. She is eccentric and, at times, exasperating and overconfident. But, ultimately all of these traits meld together to become endearing. And then there is Stoker, a mysterious man scarred both inside and out and desperate to hide his identity and past. Their interactions are electric and often comical. Raybourn has a gift for writing witty, rapid fire dialogue. Early in their time together, Stoker says to Veronica “I smoked opium once. It felt like listening to you, only rather more mundane.” They remind me of Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia and Emerson Peabody. I do not know if they will ever share a romance, but regardless, they make a wonderful team.
The plot is deliciously twisty, and every new revelation had me questioning what I thought was going on. In less deft hands, this story had the potential to be a mess, but Raybourn is a master of her craft. This is a real treat and had me eagerly turning the pages to learn what would happen next.
I rarely give any book a five-star rating, but I feel it is well deserved here. Is it absolutely perfect? Probably not, but the pros far outweigh any trivial cons. I loved every minute of my time spent with Veronica and Stoker and cannot wait to read the next book. Highly recommended.