Title: A Perilous Undertaking
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Genre: Mystery, historical fiction
Setting: Victorian London
Source: Net Galley
London, 1887. Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task—saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman’s noose in a week’s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.
But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer—a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia’s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime. 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….
This book was so much fun. It is the second in a series and I haven’t read the first but I got along just fine. There were some references to a previous adventure, which made it obvious that you were missing something if you haven’t read the first book, but it didn’t detract from the story in the second.
Victorian England is one of my favorite historical settings for novels. Raybourn really plays that up and the tone of her writing is very Victorian. This is a mystery involving Veronica Speedwell, an amateur sleuth, and her friend and companion, Stoker. She is anything but your typical Victorian lady, being an independent adventuress. Veronica is so likeable that you just want her as your friend. Being in constant close quarters with her pal, Stoker who is something of an aristocratic pirate, doesn’t make her any less enviable. The humor between the two characters is fabulous and there’s just a hint of sexual tension between the two. The story is more about solving the mystery than it is about any sort of romance between Veronica and Stoker though.
I also enjoyed the scientific aspect of the novel. Veronica is a lepidopterist or a butterfly hunter/collector and Stoker is natural historian and both are brilliant in their own respects. I thought that Raybourn played up the Victorian, sleuthing, and scientific aspects of the novel beautifully and it made for a well-rounded story.
One word of caution, a kind of side note here…Net Galley has listed the first book as a Teen/YA. Due to some graphic language and overt drug use, while pertinent to the story and appropriate to the Victorian era, I would think that this is a mislabling, especially considering they did not list the second book as YA. I don’t believe in censoring books but I do believe in parenting your own children. Do your own due diligence.