Book Review: A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell #2) by Deanna Raybourn

A Perilous Undertaking (A Veronica Speedwell Mystery #2)
Deanna Raybourn
9780451476166, paperback, Pub. Date: September 19, 2017

Marketing Description: Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter, Veronica Speedwell, receives an impossible task – saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution, who stands accused of the brutal murder of his mistress, Artemisia. 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.

WildlyRead Shelf-talker: Though by no means professional detectives, my new favorite sleuths, Veronica Speedwell, and her partner in crime, Stoker (that’s Lord Revelstoke Templeton-Vane), are back in another mystery. An unexpectedly royal familial source asks Veronica to look into the case of a high-society gent who is about to hang for the murder of his mistress. Lots of behind-the-scenes machinations, both helpful and threatening, provide direction and impediments as the lepidopterist and taxidermist use their powers of observation, their fighting skills, and their insatiable curiosity to prove whether this man should swing from the gallows or be rescued from the hangman’s noose.

Personal Notes: The premise of this entire series is wonderfully silly: An orphaned adventuress and butterfly hunter teams up with a disgraced lord adventurer and taxidermist to solve crimes. While neither one seems themselves as a sleuth – this is no Sherlock Holmes set-up – they both have extraordinary powers of observation, courage by the boatload, a wealth of life experiences, and complimentary natures which suit perfectly for the solving of mysteries. What saves the series from being too ridiculous is the quality of the writing (Deanna Raybourn is the best-selling author The Lady Julia Grey Mysteries), combined with the modern sensibilities of both characters, despite the setting of Victorian England.

Veronica Speedwell herself is a thoroughly independent woman who would take no time in adapting to a 21st century feminist sensibility. Selling butterflies to collectors to fund her expeditions, she knows how to defend herself against attacks both verbal and physical, and follows a strict set of rules for the gentlemen she takes to her bed while abroad (Rule #1: No Englishmen).

Stoker as a very close secondary character is the perfect foil in that he is not in any way odious, has his own deep, dark past he’s struggling with, and also possesses a modern sensibility of the abilities, both physical and intellectual, of women. A former Navy doctor who was scarred physically and romantically on his last adventure abroad, he wrestles with the demons of being recognized as legitimate but not biologically a Templeton-Vane.

Veronica’s logical and somewhat dispassionate nature is matched by Stoker’s more emotional outbursts, and the two of them manage each other quite neatly. In this second book in the series, the romantic and sexual tension between them heats up, but it’s the depths of their friendship that provide the most entertainment and satisfaction for the reader’s heartstrings. I’m so excited to see how they develop as characters individually and together as the series continues.

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