Book: “A Perilous Undertaking” by Deanna Raybourn
Publishing Info: Berkley Books, January 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: London, 1887. At the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task–saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Ramsforth, accused of the brutal murder of his mistress, Artemisia, will face the hangman’s noose in a week’s time if the real killer is not found.
But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural-historian colleague, Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer. From a Bohemian artists’ colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed…
Previously reviewed: “A Curious Beginning”
Review: I’ve finally gotten around to writing a review for the second book in this series! Confession: I read this several months ago…But! There have been several more recent releases that I’ve read between then and now that I wanted to get in nearer their publication date, so here we hare. #blogproblems. Anyways, all of that to say, the delay in this had nothing to do with reservations about the series or this book in general, because turns out, I liked this one just as much as the first, maybe even more!
Veronica Speedwell and Stoker have finally settled into a routine and are excited to set out on their first expedition with their wealthy patron. That is until he trips on a tortoise and has to cancel the whole thing, leaving Veronica and Stoker at a loss with how to fill their time. Wouldn’t it be nice if a mystery would fall on their doorstep right about now? And lo and behold, one does! This time with a murder in a close knit of artist friends and a speculation that the man found covered in blood at her feet may be innocent after all. Now it’s up to Veronica and Stoker to not only get to the bottom of all the shenanigans that this group has been getting up to over the years, but also to unravel a complicated knot of possible relationships and motives to hopefully save the life of an innocent man. Or is he?
Man, I’m just enjoying the heck out of these books! Veronica is such a hoot, and she’s even better in this book, now having found a new pursuit at which to aim her talents and intelligence. Stoker plays the reluctant side kick in front of Veronica’s unparalleled enthusiasm, and it sets a great tone for the series going forward. Further, in the midst of the mystery itself, we get some nice added building blocks to both of our main characters. Veronica is still reeling from the revelations about her parentage that she discovered in the last book. It’s not something that can simply be shrugged off, and specific elements of this mystery bring some of these lingering feelings to a head. Stoker, too, is still managing reconciling his complicated history with his past wife with his growing attachment (mostly just partnership, at this point) with another strong-willed woman.
The mystery itself also plays to both of these characters strengths and there were some fun swaps in gender roles that played for a lot of good comedic value. Stoker, for example, ends up being the distraction for fawning admirers while Veronica sneaks around hunting for clues. The pair also find themselves caught up in an underground…um…risque club? Stoker, of course, is horrified. Veronica is curious and enthusiastic. Which leads to even more horror on Stoker’s part.
The cast of possible suspects was large and I enjoyed many of the secondary characters that were introduced through the artists’ group. However, like the first book, I did find the ending a bit rushed and was able to predict the correct villain and their motivation fairly early on. But for me this didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the story. The writing is swift and sure, balancing excellent comedic dialogue with a never-faltering first person narrator.
One last criticism may be that I feel like the relationship between Veronica and Stoker might be moving a bit slowly, but this might just be due to the mental comparisons I can’t help but draw between this series and the Amelia Peabody series. They are very alike, both with the historical setting and the general temperaments of the two leads. And with that one, we’ve seen how successfully the series moved forward even after the two main characters got married in the very first book. Here, it feels like the author might be shying back a bit out of fear that the romantic suspense is what is driving the story. I don’t believe it is, and I’ve seen how well characters like these can flourish, even if the initial romance has been resolved happily early on. But I just received the third book from the library today, so we’ll see how things progress there.
All told, I enjoyed this second novel just as much as the first. Having already been introduced to these characters and had the partnership between Veronica and Stoker already built, I might even say this was the stronger outing of the two. If you enjoyed the first book, definitely check this one out!
Rating 9: No second book slump to be seen here!
“A Perilous Undertaking” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Victorian Historical Fiction Set In Britain” and “Lady detectives.”
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