A Perilous Undertaking
Veronica Speedwell #2
By Deanna Raybourn
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
Veronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the “New York Times” bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries…
“London, 1887.” Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman’s noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.
But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime. From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed…. (Goodreads)
A Perilous Undertaking is the fabulous follow up to A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn. Full of quirky characters, witty banter, an interesting mystery, and plenty of sexual tension, this is really a fine work of historical fiction.
Full disclosure time: I am a huge fan of Deanna Raybourn so I had high expectations for this sophomore entry in the Veronica Speedwell series. As much as I loved A Curious Beginning, I was not disappointed here. Raybourn has created a pair of fantastic characters who are independent and do not care one whit about fitting into society’s expectations of them. Veronica is a lepidopterist (butterfly hunter and collector), and Stoker is a natural scientist and explorer, the black sheep third son of an aristocratic family. They have plans to go on a great adventure, but the trip is postponed when their benefactor breaks his leg and cannot travel. So, the pair must be content to continue their work cataloging Lord Rosemorran’s family collection of “treasures”. Their plan is to turn it into a museum of sorts.
Veronica is pleasantly surprised to find herself invited to the Curiosity Club, an all female society where women can discuss any topic, socially acceptable or not. When she arrives at the club, she is introduced to “Lady Sundridge”, whom Veronica immediately recognizes her true identity as someone of great prestige and influence. Lady Sundridge tasks Veronica with clearing renowned artist Miles Ransforth’s name before his guilty sentence can be carried out at the end of a noose. With the very tight deadline and seemingly futile cause, Veronica agrees to look into things and drags Stoker along for the ride. Even after they are threatened (more than once), the detective duo carry on to find the truth, taking them into the bohemian world of artists and danger.
I absolutely adore Stoker and Veronica. Raybourn has created such complex and well drawn characters that I feel like I have known them forever. They are, above all else, friends, with taught sexual tension between them at times, colleagues, and each other’s greatest advocate. Their banter is the star of the book, their dialogue witty, and they know exactly how to push each other’s buttons. Veronica is sure that she is always the smartest person in the room (and she is probably right), but, whereas she was a bit of a snot in A Curious Beginning, here she is more mature and bit more approachable. We learn more about both Veronica and Stoker’s past, but there continue to be ghosts getting in the way of their relationship.
I do love that we get to meet some of Stoker’s family, and his brothers are just as idiosyncratic, though in a much more socially acceptable way, as Stoker. I hope we see more of them in the future. All of the recurring supporting characters and those that are central to this mystery are all well developed and interesting. The artist community provides a plethora of defining eccentricities that kept me on my toes.
The story moves at a quick pace, but it does take a couple of chapters for it to really get going. The atmosphere, attention to historical detail, and authentic language and “voice” fully transported me to Victorian England. This is yet another circumstance where Raybourn excels. With every page read, the twenty-first century felt more and more distant, and I was reluctant to return to the present.
The mystery itself is engaging and exciting. The sense that time is running out is palpable and adds to the adventure. Veronica and Stoker approach everything as they would a science experiment, and their thinking is most always logical and practical. This juxtaposition of science against the art community is great. There are plenty of red herrings along the way, and plenty of suspects to keep readers guessing. There are some perilous moments but also some laugh-out-loud moments. One scene between Veronica and Stoker in a love grotto is particularly chuckle worthy, as is their adventure into an opium den.
I truly love the Veronica Speedwell series and cannot wait to read what trouble our investigating pair gets into next. A year between books is much too long to wait. I highly recommend A Perilous Undertaking to fans of Deanna Raybourn’s other works, and to those who appreciate witty writing, a strong sense of place and time, and eccentric characters.