REVIEW: An Uxpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn
Dear Deanna Raybourn:
This is book six in your Veronica Speedwell mystery series, set in late Victorian London. Blurb time!:
January 1889. As the newest member of the Curiosity Club—an elite society of brilliant, intrepid women—Veronica Speedwell is excited to put her many skills to good use. As she assembles a memorial exhibition for pioneering mountain climber Alice Baker-Greene, Veronica discovers evidence that the recent death was not a tragic climbing accident but murder. Veronica and her natural historian beau, Stoker, tell the patron of the exhibit, Princess Gisela of Alpenwald, of their findings. With Europe on the verge of war, Gisela’s chancellor, Count von Rechstein, does not want to make waves—and before Veronica and Stoker can figure out their next move, the princess disappears.
Having noted Veronica’s resemblance to the princess, von Rechstein begs her to pose as Gisela for the sake of the peace treaty that brought the princess to England. Veronica reluctantly agrees to the scheme. She and Stoker must work together to keep the treaty intact while navigating unwelcome advances, assassination attempts, and Veronica’s own family—the royalty who has never claimed her.
Some series spoilers follow.
Book five in the series not only saw Veronica meeting and bonding with her royal half-brother, but finally….finally! consummating her relationship with Stoker. In the aftermath, Veronica is enjoying the intimacy but also subtly bristling at the bonds that Stoker represents. Both are used to seeking out freedom and adventure. But of the two, Stoker is often the more cautious, level-headed one, whereas Veronica loves nothing more than running head-long into danger. (It’s one of qualities that I sometimes like and sometimes find irritating in her, along with her persistent smugness.)
The investigation into the apparent murder of Alice Baker-Greene causes tension because Stoker initially wants to stay out of it (he did, after all, get shot during their last foray), whereas everything in Veronica – her sense of identification with Alice, her commitment to justice, and the fact that she finds investigating murder fun – prods her towards throwing herself into the fray.
The disappearance of Princess Gisela and subsequent need for a double provide Veronica with the perfect opportunity to snoop around and see what she can find out about Alice’s death. Her suspects include the aforementioned chancellor, Count von Rechstein; Gisela’s would-be fiance, Duke Maximilian of Lokendorf, and Captain Durand, the princess’s personal bodyguard. All fit, more or less, the physical description of the man seen on the mountain with Alice on the fateful day. There’s also a villainous American climber, Douglas Norton, whom Alice had quarreled with, lurking about.
Veronica’s frenemy, the yellow journalist J.J. Butterworth, is also hanging around, disguising herself as a hotel maid to get the scoop on the princess. It somewhat defies credibility that she doesn’t break the story of Gisela’s disappearance, though she’s ostensibly given another story in exchange for keeping her silence. Butterworth then trades favors with Veronica and gives her information on the disappearance of some key evidence – the climbing rope that was clearly cut to cause the fatal fall.
The events of An Unexpected Peril give Veronica a poignant up-close glimpse into royal life, one that could have been hers if things had been different. On the one hand, the stifling rules (and heavy tiaras!) do not suit Veronica, at all. On the other hand, the sense of belonging is something she has felt the lack of her whole life. (The adoration of the masses is nice in small doses, too.)
This is the second book in a row that heavily features Veronica’s royal backstory, and for some reason, I got a little tired of it towards the end. Maybe it feels like Veronica’s feelings never really evolve, so she’s just repeating herself over and over? (Though I’m reminded of the fact that these books are set in a pretty short timeline, with many of them starting just days or weeks after the previous book ended.) Maybe it’s that I’m not a big fan, in general, of inserting fictional characters into real history. Or maybe it’s that Veronica’s vulnerability on the subject of her parentage doesn’t jibe with her uber-confident personality. (I feel somewhat hypocritical about the last one, since I’m generally a fan of vulnerability and not so much of uber-confidence.)
Maybe I’m just in my feelings about the British royal family because the Harry and Meghan/Oprah interview aired last night. Whatever the reason, I wouldn’t mind if the next book focuses on something else.
The mysteries (Alice’s death and Gisela’s disappearance) didn’t interest me hugely, but that’s often the case with the historical mystery series that I read. I read these books for Veronica, Stoker, and the other colorful characters (and dogs! They seem to acquire a new dog in every book) that populate the series. My grade for An Unexpected Peril is a B.