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A Treacherous Curse

Deanna Raybourn

Deanna Raybourn continues her series of late-Victorian historical mysteries featuring the intrepid lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell and her piratically handsome, enigmatic associate, Revelstoke Templeton-Vane (Stoker)  in A Treacherous Curse.  The big draw of this third instalment was the prospect of at last getting to know more about Stoker’s chequered – and sometimes heartbreaking – past and what exactly happened to turn him into a social pariah with the blackest of reputations.  We’re also treated to a mystery concerning  a missing Egyptian artefact and an ancient curse – and the two storylines are inextricably linked by virtue of the fact that one of the parties involved is none other than Stoker’s ex-wife, Caroline. 

A Treacherous Curse can easily be read as a standalone, but readers will gain a far greater understanding of the still-evolving, complex relationship between Veronica and Stoker by reading the novels in order.  I’ll also say now that there are likely to be spoilers in this review for the earlier books, so proceed with caution if you have yet to read them. 

If you have read the previous books, then you’ll know that Veronica and Stoker have been employed by the Earl of Rosemorran to catalogue his family’s vast collection of art, artefacts, natural history specimens and mementoes with a view to eventually curating a museum, and that they both work and live on site at the Belvedere, a ‘singularly extraordinary structure’  in the grounds of Rosemorran’s Marylebone estate.  Although they have separate apartments, their living arrangements are regarded as being somewhat unorthodox, but then they’re unorthodox individuals, both fiercely independent free-thinkers, estranged from their families and not really caring about the strictures of society.  These commonalities are just two of the things that bind this unusual pair; from almost the beginning of their association, each recognised in the other a kindred spirit, and Ms. Raybourn has done a splendid job of developing their friendship and strengthening their unique bond, a bond that relies on an almost soul-deep connection and a love for each other that goes far beyond the romantic and sexual attraction that continues to crackle between them. 

“Whatever this thing is that makes us different, this thing that makes quicksilver of us when the rest of the world is mud, it binds us.  To break that would be to fly in the face of nature.”

(Stoker in A Perilous Undertaking). 

Veronica and Stoker are surprised when they are approached by Sir Hugo Montgomerie of Special Branch and asked to look into the disappearance of John de Morgan, the man who had once been Stoker’s closest friend.  De Morgan was engaged as photographer for Sir Leicester Tiverton ‘s most recent expedition to Egypt, but departed unexpectedly and was accompanied back to England by his wife – whose very public divorce from Stoker some years earlier saw Stoker disgraced and vilified.   

Sir Hugo explains that the de Morgans stopped for the night in Dover, and in the morning, John de Morgan was discovered to have vanished, along with a priceless diadem from the tomb of Princess Ankheset.  Making things even more intriguing is the fact that not only have man and artefact gone missing, but so has John de Morgan’s hotel room!  Caroline de Morgan states that her husband’s room was blue with rose-print wallpaper – yet no such room exists, and according to the hotel proprietor, Mrs. de Morgan was travelling alone.  Add to this the rumours of a curse affecting members of the dig and the sightings of the figure of Anubis (the Egyptian god of the dead) striding through the streets of London and the stage is set for an entertaining mystery in which our heroes must dispel a curse, fight for their lives, battle vicious rumour and find a murderer. 

With that said, however, the mystery feels a little less intricately plotted than those in the other books, and it does take a bit of a back seat to the unravelling of Stoker’s backstory – although I’m not going to complain about it, given I’ve been eagerly awaiting that very thing.   

Veronica and Stoker know it’s only a matter of time before the press gets hold of the story, and that once they do, they’re going to “hunt you [Stoker] like a pack of feral dogs” and take great delight in dredging up all the old scandal that painted him as the worst sort of villain, a man whose wife was so terrified of his violent nature that she took advantage of the offer of escape made her by his friend,  filed for divorce and then married said friend.  We already know Stoker was wronged, and now, Ms. Raybourn fills in the gaps and reveals the whole truth behind his ill-fated marriage and how his career as one of the foremost explorers and natural scientists of the age came to an ignominious end.  I love the way she reveals Stoker to be a man of sensitivity and vulnerability while at the same time showing him to be possessed of an incredible determination and inner-strength: 

“I have watched you claw your way back to life in the past months, taking an interest in your work, in your future.  You have been the agent of y our own resurrection, and you do not even see it… You are a savage miracle, Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, knit together by the hands of Nature herself.” 

The way Veronica so passionately champions Stoker is one of the things I really enjoyed about her in this book.  She’s opinionated, independent, flawed and unconventional (and thankfully, Ms. Raybourn has toned down those ‘look at me, I’m unconventional!’ aspects of Veronica’s character that grated in the last book), but she will fight to the death for what she believes in – and she believes in Stoker.  That’s not so say that things are all one-sided; far from it, as we already know that Stoker would do the same for Veronica (and did, when he took a bullet for her at the end of A Perilous Undertaking).  That unquestioning loyalty is one of the things that makes their friendship so special, but I will admit that I’ve become a little impatient at its lack of development in this novel. On the one hand, the author has done a terrific job of building and showing her readers a strong, deeply affectionate and trusting relationship between two extraordinary people; a pair of social misfits who have been lucky enough to find the one person in the world who truly understands them and sees them for who and what they are.  And that’s wonderful.  BUT…  given the off-the-charts sexual tension that has existed  between the couple from the get-go,  I’ve been expecting their relationship to turn romantic, and so far, it hasn’t.  It’s fairly clear that this is partly because both Stoker and Veronica value what they have so greatly that they are wary of changing it, but this book (like the others) is littered with references to the fact that Veronica has the serious hots for Stoker – she’s forever ogling his gorgeously muscled body and pointing out that he has no idea what a babe magnet he is… and after three books, it’s become just a bit tedious and more than a bit frustrating.  With the truth of Stoker’s past now out in the open, I’d expected a little movement on the romantic side of their relationship and although it seems that both of them are, at different points, on the verge of an important revelation, it wasn’t enough to satisfy my shippy little heart. 

YMMV, of course; the mystery is fun, the dialogue is sharp and witty, and the secondary characters – of whom my favourite is undoubtedly Lady Wellie, the doyenne of society who knows everyone and everything there is to know – are expertly crafted.  A Treacherous Curse earns a strong recommendation in spite of my quibbles, and I’ve got my fingers crossed for a bit more romance in the next instalment. 

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Book Details

Reviewer :      Caz Owens


Grade :     B+


Sensuality :      N/A


Book Type :     


Review Tags :     


6 Comments

  1. Blackjack January 8, 2018 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    I completely agree with your review, Caz. I felt the mystery was a bit thin though it was still quite fun. The romantic development between Veronica and Stoker was not as strong as I had hoped, but I do think important information was included that helps Veronica to understand Stoker better now. I have to say too that Veronica’s reasons for not wanting a sexual relationship with any man in England never seemed to ring true enough for me. I do though absolutely love their commitment to each other. It’s going to be a long wait for Book 4 I fear.

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens January 9, 2018 at 6:56 am - Reply

      Great minds… For me, Stoker’s backstory was the strongest – and best – part of the novel and I’m really glad Ms. Raybourn didn’t string it out unnecessarily. She’s saved the stringing-out for the romance, it seems (yes, I’m just a teeny bit bitter!) but she’d better not wait too much longer or those of us hoping for more between Veronica and Stoker will get fed up with waiting.

  2. mel burns January 9, 2018 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    I’m happy to be “strung along” romantically, but I agree with you about Stoker’s back story. Great review!

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens January 9, 2018 at 6:07 pm - Reply

      WIth a series of this sort, I expect to be strung along a bit… but it’s got to be very carefully judged and if you’re not careful all that reader anticipation you’ve built up can turn into reader apathy. I can think of popular TV shows that have strung out the “will-they, won’t they?” so long that audiences got fed up with waiting and moved on to something else.

  3. Iris January 9, 2018 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    Great review. I just completed a reread of the first 2 books while I anxiously await this one and so have been giving a bit of thought to Stoker and Veronica’s relationship and slow burn literary relationships in general.

    As a reader I don’t care if an author includes a romance or whether sex scenes are written graphically or kept behind doors. What bothers me is if within the parameters of the relationship the sexual activity or lack of it seems artificial. It reads as a lazy way for the author to keep up the tension in an otherwise flabby story (or am I the only one whose relationships never seem to include countless near miss or aborted but promisingly passionate kisses),

    While both Veronica and Stoker, as written, are persons who engage in sexual activity, though neither of them are doing so now, it’s Veronica’s behavior that strikes me as artificial. She tells us that she enjoys sex and carefree flings, personally I was thrilled about this aspect of her character but as it isn’t typical for a woman of her era I need to be shown the truth of this, and as Blackjack said, the no English guys excuse is weak.

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens January 9, 2018 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      Thank you. I read primarily romances, so I freely admit that I’m looking at this book from that angle rather than from the angle of someone reading primarily for the mystery. But I agree that what’s important is that the romance, sex or lack thereof makes sense within the context of the relationship the author is creating. But like you and Blackjack, I’m not really convinced by Veronica’s insistence on only playing away games (!) – she obviously isn’t all that worried about her reputation (everyone assumes she and Stoker are living in sin anyway) so I’m not quite sure why she continues to adhere to that rule. Mind you, given it’s usually Stoker saying “down girl”, he’s just as skittish, although, as we’ve just learned, he has his reasons.

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