A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1)
By Deanna Raybourn
Berkley, 2015. 368 pgs. Mystery
As much as Veronica loved her spinster aunt-cum-mother, she is ready to embark on her next adventure as soon as her aunt is dead and buried. Veronica longs for the freedom to travel on her own, discover new butterfly species, and enjoy the occasional romantic dalliance. Unfortunately, she returns to find their cottage ransacked and occupied by a stranger intent on her abduction. Fortunately, Veronica is prepared for such circumstances and thwarts his attempts before being whisked off to the safety of London by a protective, elderly baron who knew her mother. From there she is delivered into the custody of Stoker, a tattooed, fallen natural historian, and their mutual hostility is palpable. But murder follows and the two are forced to go on the run while uncovering the mystery of Veronica’s parentage and Stoker's past.
I’ve been a devoted fan of Deanna Raybourn’s historical mysteries for awhile now but she surprised me with her latest book, which completely lives up to its title. I reread it this fall for my book club and the entire club, without exception, adored it. It has the whole package – witty verbal sparring, one-of-a-kind characters, even pacing, and an unpredictable mystery. Veronica, who is an intriguing combination of Sherlock and Mary Poppins, and Stoker, the unexpected dark brooding hero, are free spirits and exceptions to the Victorian norm. Some may find their modern sensibilities implausible but as characters on the fringe of society, I found their views on feminism and morality tenable. Veronica’s arrogance and Stoker’s obstinacy can be grating at times, but overall this was a charming and addictive read.