The story begins with the lovely Miss Veronica Speedwell burying her beloved aunt who had, along with another aunt, raised her. I know, a bit morbid, but stick with me here. It is 1887 and it is common knowledge that a woman’s place is in the home. She is to be biddable, innocent, virtuous, and have no intellectual opinions to speak of. Miss Speedwell is having none of that nonsense. She is a free spirit and does as she likes, not what is expected of her.
What she likes is to travel the world on expeditions collecting rare and lovely butterflies to sell to collectors with deep pockets. She makes her own way in the world and lives by no one’s rules but her own. In my mind I pictured her a bit like Indiana Jones except with a butterfly net instead of a whip. I’m sure she could have handled the whip quite well, though, if she had a mind to.
After burying her aunt, who was her aunt in name only and not by blood, Miss Speedwell intends on securing funding for another expedition. She longs to leave the damp weather of Britain behind but her plans are quickly curtailed when she finds her home being ransacked. Once he is spotted the robber also attempts to kidnap Miss Speedwell. With the assistance of a mysterious gentleman she breaks free and from that point on her life is irreparably changed, though she doesn’t know it yet.
The mysterious fellow turns out to be Baron Maximilian von Stuffenbach and after some discussion she travels with the Baron to London. The Baron impresses upon her that her life is in danger and leaves her with his friend Stoker in London while he does some research into the matter, confident that Stoker will keep her safe. Miss Speedwell went along because she wanted to go to London anyway and if the Baron took her then she wouldn’t have to pay for a train ticket.
Unfortunately while Miss Speedwell is with Stoker the Baron is murdered and Stoker, who is a bit odd himself (he brings to mind a surly pirate), fears that he will be blamed for the murder due to some past indiscretions. He and Veronica then flee the city. She only goes with him out of curiosity and for adventure. I got the impression that you cannot force Veronica to do anything that she does not truly want to do. What she gets is certainly an adventure.
They find themselves in a traveling circus where Veronica is accidentally stabbed, being harbored as fugitives by two aristocrats, and kidnapped on the Thames. All along the journey they have many intelligent and witty debates. The dialogue in this book is wonderful. The characters also stick to their themes, you won’t find the strong Miss Veronica Speedwell cowering in a corner. That is something I loved about this book. The characters know exactly who they are and stick to it. There is no waffling wondering who they are or doing things that break the continuity. Thanks, Raybourn! I don’t encounter that as often as I’d like.
So much happens in this book that I can’t address it all here. There is action, wit, mystery, sexual tension, and so much more. Stoker is a lovable if broken man, Speedwell is intelligent and determined and together they find themselves solving murder and mysteries. I will definitely be picking up Veronica’s next adventure, A Perilous Undertaking.