Title: A Perilous Undertaking
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Page Count: 352
Notable Notables: Victorian setting, Sex-positive protagonist
Recommended Readers: Anyone who wants to start reading mystery
I had an unexpected snow day today, so this review gets to go out earlier (mostly because I was able to write it earlier). Yay!
When we meet Veronica Speedwell and Stoker again in this sequel to A Curious Beginning, they are eagerly preparing for an expedition to Fiji—only for their plans to be tragically foiled when their benefactor trips over his prized tortoise and injures himself. With the expedition cancelled, the two take consolation in cataloguing their benefactor’s collection, but adventure still manages to find them, and not a moment too soon.
Lady Sundridge summons Veronica and implores her to solve a seemingly impossible case, one the police have already put to rest. She must save Miles Ramsforth from hanging after he was accused of murdering his mistress, Artemisia, but she must do so discreetly. The information that could prove Miles’ innocence could also ruin lives in the process, not to mention throw unwelcome light onto Veronica’s own family history.
The investigation takes Veronica and Stoker to a house of artists and Miles’ own underground sex club, granting readers a host of hilarious scenes, including Stoker having to pose nude for a sculptor to acquire clues. A lot more detective work was done here than in A Curious Beginning since both Veronica and Stoker have more experience, and A Perilous Undertaking starts the mystery off immediately.
Many interesting and memorable characters are introduced in the process. My favorite new addition was Lady Wellingtonia, who is not too embarrassed to say anything and is shrewd beyond measure. I also loved meeting Stoker’s other brothers, especially the Viscount. (He was…#Nice.) Each of them are unique in their own way, and their friction with Stoker is beyond intriguing. Bit by bit, we are learning more about Stoker’s relationships and his past. I only wonder now what it’s going to take for Stoker and the Viscount to reconcile or come to blows.
On the flip side, we also learn a little more about Veronica’s past, discovering she and Stoker have more in common than either of them realized. Where Stoker wrestles with his place in his family, Veronica finds herself in a power struggle with a family she’s never known and truthfully doesn’t want to be a part of. She just wants to show them up, and I love her for that. But she and Stoker have other, darker skeletons in their closets, too. The moment when they’re going to at last share everything with each other is one I’m dying for, but it’s an enjoyable death at least.
Let me talk about Veronica for a second. She’s a delightful mix of contradictions. I love how bold she is but how careful, too. How thoughtful but also how impulsive. She’s confident but doesn’t show her hand until she needs to, and, most importantly, she knows how to read people, perhaps not perfectly but well enough to navigate herself through nearly any situation, especially when it involves men. We see this in her handling of Gilchrist, Sir Frederick, Mornaday, and Stoker, each man being enormously different from the others.
Funnily enough, she seems to understand men in some ways better than she does women, while, with Stoker, it’s the exact opposite. He’s more inclined to fight other men than talk to them (granted, there’s a lot of bad blood there), but when Veronica bungles certain exchanges with, for instance, Lady Sundridge, Stoker easily smooths things over. It’s part of what makes them such a good team, being able to bolster each other’s strengths and make up for their failings. They continue to be fascinating both together and separately.
And the Kiss™. I was so excited for that scene, and I wondered how Deanna Raybourn was going to do it. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but it was every bit as dramatic and hot and wistful and devastating as I hoped it would be—without taking away any of the tension at all. If anything else, only more tension has been added. Masterfully done!
As for the mystery itself, I enjoyed the longer process of figuring out who did what. There was plenty of room for character development as well as some very real sleuthing to take place. Probably still a little basic for avid mystery readers, but definitely fun as well. Honestly, the “whodunit” reveal wasn’t nearly as intense to read as the confrontation and fallout that happened after, and that’s really where the payoff of the novel was for me.
With that, it’s onto the next Speedwell mystery, A Treacherous Curse.