Desert Isle Keeper
An Unexpected Peril
As an avid reader of romance I’d be hard-pressed to pick one hero to spend a lifetime with, but it might well be Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, better known as the hunky, clever, and oh so sensitive and poetic Stoker!
You are not among the good that has happened to me. You are the best of all that I have known. You are what I searched for when I left that house and wandered this earth, boy and man. You are the part of myself I never thought to find because I did not even dare to dream you existed. You are all that I want and more than I deserve, and I will go to my grave thanking a god in whom I do not believe for bringing me to you.
So…here we are on the sixth book of the A Veronica Speedwell Mystery series and, IMHO, this is one of the best of the set. There will be spoilers about previous books in this review so if you are planning on reading the series, stop here and go pick up A Curious Beginning!
An Unexpected Peril picks up soon after the heart-racing adventures of book five have come to an end, and Stoker is looking forward to a little peace and quiet. It is not to be, however. Veronica and Stoker have been asked by Lady Cordelia (sister to their benefactor Lord Rosemorran) to install at the Curiosity Club (an exclusive club of female scientists) an exhibition of mountaineering in the Alpenwald as a tribute to Curiosity Club member and famous mountaineer Alice Baker-Greene. Alice recently died during a routine climb of the Teufelstreppe, in the middle of the tiny country of Alpenwald between France and Germany. Veronica remembers meeting Alice the previous year, remembers her zest for life and her excitement to be moving permanently to Alpenwald. And now Alice is dead and Veronica and Stoker suspect foul play in the form of a rope that appears to have been cut.
The exhibition is to be opened by Her Serene Highness Gisela, the Hereditary Princess of the Alpenwald and ruler of the country. When Stoker and Veronica bring their suspicions to the Princess, she is unconvinced – it would be a massive public relations problem for Alpenwald – whose economy is mostly supported by climbers – to have a murder in the climbing community on their mountain. Stoker feels he and Veronica have done their duty by bringing it to the attention of the Alpenwalders but Veronica wishes to pursue the investigation.
While they are debating what to do next, a summons arrives from the Chancellor of the Alpenwald. Assuming they are beginning a murder investigation, the couple heads off to the Sudbury Hotel to meet with the Alpenwalders – Veronica excited, Stoker resigned. But when they arrive, they are informed that the Princess is missing and the Alpenwalders appeal to Veronica (who looks remarkably like Gisela) to impersonate the Princess at upcoming events, which include signing a treaty of mutual defense brokered by the Dowager Empress of Germany – aka the Princess Royal, Vicky, between the Alpenwald and France against the German Empire.
What follows is a delightful mystery full of blackmail, murder, disguises, and betrayals. As always, the supporting cast is well-drawn and engaging. We see very little of old favorites like Mornaday and Lady Wellie, but J.J. Butterworth is back writing sensational stories and impeding Veronica and Stoker’s investigations (because of course they are going to investigate Alice’s death on the side!) The charming Julien d’Orlande, chef at the Sudbury, returns, providing details about guests and creating lavish delicacies. I’m not sure which descriptions I enjoyed more – the desserts or the descriptions of the outfits worn by Veronica when she impersonates Gisela. The Alpenwalders are an amusing lot with their customs, food, mannerisms, and elaborate moustaches. Ms. Raybourn also does a thorough job painting a picture of Alice Baker-Greene. Rarely is a dead character so vibrant!
This is a fascinating time in European history, with the rise of Germany and the growing rift between Kaiser Wilhelm and his mother Princess Vicky. Ms. Raybourn places her fictional Alpenwald directly between Germany and France – not the place a tiny sovereignty can feel comfortable at this juncture of history. When Stoker asks why the Princess Vicky has brokered a treaty against her own son, the Alpenwalders respond:
“Because his interests are not those of good and peaceful men,” the chancellor said sternly. “She has tried the whole of her life to instill in him the principles of democracy upon which she was weaned, but his upbringing was taken out of her hands by his grandfather. He was schooled to admire all things military and warlike, to love aggression and fighting and the glory of Germany.” His moustaches quivered in disgust. “He was never taught to cherish peace, to work for the good of his people. His mother is deeply afraid, you see.”
Again, a fascinating time and Ms. Raybourn handles the international tension deftly. It is easy to feel the discomfort and apprehension radiating from the Alpenwalders.
Veronica and Stoker’s relationship continues to take center-stage. Veronica is starting to feel the pull/dread of domesticity and for a few brief pages I was preparing a tirade of ‘no, no, no Veronica, do not be a fool!’ but then Stoker steps in, reads the situation perfectly, and says and does exactly what Veronica needs him to do. This man! Veronica does some maturing in this book as she starts to see some of the selfishness in her decisions. I am hoping that she finally realizes that she can be daring and adventurous and committed to one person for the long haul. More and more she is starting to see the treasure she has in Stoker.
Longtime lovers of the series will be on pins and needles near the end when Stoker and Veronica go to Windsor Castle to sign Princess Vicky’s treaty. They had been assured that members of the Royal Family were at Sandringham but some have returned early. The last few chapters are a race to the finish and, at the end, J.J. Butterworth is still in disguise at Windsor Castle. One can only guess what this will lead to in Book Seven. I can’t wait!