A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell Mystery) by Deanna Raybourn

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A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell Mystery) by Deanna Raybourn

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: Two scientists investigate a murder in the Bohemian art world and seek to uncover the real villain before the suspect hangs.
Buy? yes Borrow? yes
Pages: 338 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Berkley Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780451476159

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Veronica Speedwell did not choose to be an investigator by profession. She was, first and foremost, a scientist; a lepidopterist and adventuress who travelled the world looking for exciting butterfly specimens. However, when her latest expedition was cancelled due to an unfortunate incident with a giant tortoise, Veronica and her taxidermist friend Stoker took up the challenge of a murder investigation as an interesting diversion. The case seemed to an open-and-shut one; Miles Ramsforth, an art patron, had been accused of murdering his pregnant mistress, Artemisia. He was discovered at the scene, covered in her blood and had both the motive and circumstances to commit the crime. He would hang by the end of the week if Veronica and Stoker could not find the 'real' killer.

Although the story is set in Victorian times with two investigators trying to solve a curious murder, Veronica and Stoker couldn't be more different from their more famous counterparts; Holmes and Watson. Veronica is a lady with very liberated views: she is an educated female scientist who has travelled the world unchaperoned, and vehemently disagrees with the tight moral restrictions placed upon her sex. Stoker is a perfect accomplice, a scientist devoted to his work but also considered a black sheep by his family due to previous misadventures in the navy. Both have their ghosts and closely guarded secrets, but strike up a close bond of friendship due to their shared love of science and adventure, not to mention an intense chemistry between the two that positively fizzes and sparks throughout the story. Some of the funniest scenes in the book are when the two are verbally sparring in a battle of wits. Likewise, some of the most emotionally-charged sections of the book explore the vulnerability and closeness of the pair.

There is plenty of action, tension and excitement, as the investigation continues. It soon becomes clear that someone wishes to prevent them from discovering the truth, and is willing to threaten their lives if necessary. Veronica and Stoker are likeable characters and it is easy to care about them both. Of course, we can also see that they are a perfect romantic match, but our author seems happy to let them remain friends and tease the readers mercilessly with plenty of will they, won't they? moments.

I worry that Veronica may come across as too liberated for her time, especially as the author feels the need to constantly remind the reader of this fact. For example, Veronica is totally preoccupied with sex. In a typical encounter, she will meet a stranger for the first time, steer the conversation around to sexual matters before proudly asking whether they would be shocked to know she is no longer a virgin. When she isn’t talking about sex, she's thinking about how long it has been since she last had sex or reminiscing about previous encounters. It is enough to make a Victorian lady blush; Veronica is an anachronism, sometimes too much so.

Despite the constant sex references throughout the book, I enjoyed the mystery element and the way that it all worked out. The language was generally consistent with the time period and the book was well researched, although I did spot a few sneaky 'Americanisms' that popped up occasionally, including the dreaded someplace, a word that manages to find its way into most English historical fiction by American authors. Thankfully, the usual culprit: gotten, was nowhere to be seen. Thanks to the publishers for my review copy.

Those who enjoy Victorian detective fiction may like The Kingdom of Bones by Stephen Gallagher, a pastiche of Victorian penny-dreadful fiction.

Buy A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell Mystery) by Deanna Raybourn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell Mystery) by Deanna Raybourn at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell Mystery) by Deanna Raybourn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell Mystery) by Deanna Raybourn at Amazon.com.


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