A Perilous Undertaking
In A Perilous Undertaking, the second book in Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series, Veronica and Stoker are called upon to investigate the murder of an artist. Having just read and loved A Curious Beginning, the first book in the series, I couldn’t wait to see what the pair were going to get up to next. And A Perilous Undertaking does not disappoint. Like its predecessor, this second installment is a highly enjoyable read with an intriguing mystery, two leads whose chemistry registers off the chart, and excellent writing that brings Victorian London vividly to life. If you are a fan of historical mysteries with strong romantic elements and have yet to read A Curious Beginning, I urge you to stop reading this review and head to your nearest bookstore now. You will not want to miss the burgeoning relationship between Stoker and Veronica that takes place before the start of this book.
To better discuss Veronica’s character arc and motivations, I opted to include a couple of spoilers for A Curious Beginning in this review. You have been warned.
As A Perilous Undertaking opens, Veronica and Stoker have firmly ensconced themselves on Lord Rosemorran’s estate as curators for the museum he hopes to establish with his collection of natural history specimens. Working in such close proximity has caused Veronica and Stoker to be at each other’s throats all day. Therefore, when Lord Rosemorran’s sister Lady Cordelia invites Veronica to visit the Curiosity Club with her, Veronica gladly accepts.
Founded for the purpose of giving accomplished ladies a place to exchange ideas freely, the Curiosity Club has long been a place of, well, curiosity for Veronica. But it turns out that Lady Cordelia’s invitation to visit the club was not issued on a whim. While at the club, Veronica is introduced to a mysterious Lady Sundridge, who is actually none other than Princess Louise, a younger sister of the Prince of Wales. One of Princess Louise’s friends, Miles Ramsforth, has been found guilty of murdering his mistress Artemisia and is due to be executed in one week’s time. For reasons that Princess Louise is unwilling to get into, the princess believes Miles to be innocent. Since mounting an investigation on her own is out of the question – the resulting scandal to the Royal family will give the press a field day – Princess Louise wants Veronica to find the real murderer and exonerate Miles. Her refusal to comply or her failure to solve the case in time will resul, in the death of an innocent man.
In A Curious Beginning, we find out that Veronica is, in fact, the daughter of the Prince of Wales, which would make Princess Louise her aunt. Veronica being Veronica, this of course means that she could not pass up the chance to prove her mettle to the family that chose not to acknowledge her. So before long, Veronica and Stoker find themselves plunged neck deep in an investigation that will eventually lead them to a Victorian version of an underground sex club. The many quirky characters they meet during the course of their investigation, as well as the good-natured insults they lob at each other to mask a deeper attraction, makes this book a perfect blend of humor and suspense. There are some graphic depictions of violence and the overall tone of this book is darker – this is, after all, a book about murder – but it is a testament to the author’s skills that I didn’t find the proceedings too grim or overwhelming.
On the character building front, fans of Veronica and Stoker will be happy to know that in A Perilous Undertaking, more of Stoker’s past is revealed which leads to an intimate moment between him and Veronica. The book also ends on a heartfelt scene between the pair that shows just how much the bond and trust between them have strengthened. As far as actual romantic developments go, these two still have a long way to go and personal baggage to work through – we still don’t know, for instance, what happened to Stoker in South America – but they are making strides and when they are finally ready to take that next step, I have no doubt that it will be worth the wait.
So what kept this from being a Desert Isle Keeper for me? This may be a weird analogy to make for a historical mystery, but if A Curious Beginning can be considered an “origin” story of sorts for Stoker and Veronica’s partnership, A Perilous Undertaking can be said to suffer from the middle chapter syndrome. After the audacious revelation regarding Veronica’s antecedents and the budding of a deep and lasting friendship between Veronica and Stoker – a friendship that is formed, in part, through their shared experience at a circus no less – everything that happens in A Perilous Undertaking just seems smaller in scope by comparison. Then there is Veronica herself. While I like the fact that she’s unconventional, outspoken, and fearless, there are times when her constant need to fling the fact that she’s different in people’s faces and her rudeness to those she considers her emotional or intellectual inferiors pushes her firmly into the boastful braggart territory. At one point in the story, Stoker calls her a bully because she always has to have things her way, and through most of the book, I tended to agree with him.
The above quibbles aside, A Perilous Undertaking is a deftly-plotted, entertaining book that should please fans of the series. The dialogue between Veronica and Stoker sparkles with wit, and I for one cannot wait to see what Veronica’s ties to the Royal family may portend for this dynamic duo. Here’s to hoping that I won’t have to wait too long for Veronica and Stoker’s next adventure.