Sequels. Whether in books or movies you never quite know what to expect. Traditionally the sequel doesn’t meet the same expectations of it’s predecessor. Take the original Star Wars trilogy for example. Some of the absolute most popular films in history and yet that second one, The Empire Strikes Back, is typically considered the most lowly of the three. The curse of the sequel.
I read the first book of Raybourn’s Speedwell mysteries, A Curious Beginning, a few months back and very much enjoyed every page. When I spotted A Perilous Undertaking at the library I was excited to jump back into it’s Victorian era mystery but at the same time apprehensive. Would it live up to the first book or would I be left wanting?
I should never have doubted Raybourn. A Perilous Undertaking is every bit as good as A Curious Beginning. Shame on me.
We return to the story with Veronica Speedwell, a lepidopterist, some months after having learned that she was a bastard child of the royal family. A family that would never, and could never, claim her. She accepted this and was quite content going about her own life in pursuit of scientific inquiry of butterflies. She and her companion (not in the connubial sense) Stoker have planned a new expedition and are excited to leave London behind in search of adventure.
Their plans are thwarted when one of their party (the one with the deep pockets) falls ill and they are forced to put their expedition on hold. In the meantime, Veronica has found herself at a club in the company of one of the royal princesses. Princess Louise asks for Veronica’s help in correctly solving a murder and clearing the name of the man currently blamed for the deed.
“The hardest lesson I had learnt upon my travels was patience. There are times when every muscle, every nerve, screams for movement, when every instinct urges escape. But the instinct to fly is not always a sound one. There are occasions when only stillness can save you.”
Going through some other reviews of this book on Goodreads and Amazon and such I’ve noticed several people commenting that it takes this story a while to get going. I don’t agree. Every act, every moment in the first few chapters is important. You are reacquainted with the cast of characters, given information on their current lives as they do differ slightly from the first book, and are introduced to the mystery at hand. I didn’t think it was slow moving at all but instead necessary information to make the story complete.
Of course Veronica takes up the mystery with the aide of dear Stoker and once again they find themselves investigating a murder. I was, as I was the first time, thrilled with Veronica’s decidedness to be her own woman. She did not allow the social aspect in the Victorian era of letting the male oppress the woman rule her. I love what a strong, intelligent, willful character she is.
The investigation takes the duo to some very interesting places. A vast private home being used to house and teach budding artists, an opium den, Scotland yard, the royal palace, and a grotto on a piece of private property which was obviously used as a salacious sex den. All the while Veronica and Stoker keep up their witty banter which I quickly fell in love with in the first book. They are both highly intelligent people on a mission and their dialogue is marvelous. The dynamic between those two is so entertaining that they could be having a discussion about the common house fly and make it interesting.
If you enjoy a good mystery or have an interest in Victorian era historical fiction I highly recommend giving this series a shot. The story was thoroughly engrossing and while I suspected the eventual murderer it was still a joy to watch the duo come to the same conclusion. As a side note, while I am not particularly squeamish I know that some topics can be delicate for folks and would like point out that the murdered person was a pregnant woman. I’m sure it would be a touchy subject for some people and prefer to give readers a heads up.
I hope that if you do choose to pick up these Veronica Speedwell mysteries that you enjoy them as much as I do. The third book featuring these characters, A Treacherous Curse, is due out in January of 2018.