Book Review

A Curious Beginning By Deanna Raybourn

A Curious Beginning

  • Author: Deanna Raybourn
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Publication Date: September 1, 2015
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • Series: Veronica Speedwell #1

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: death, violence, attempted kidnapping, murder, blood

London, 1887. After burying her spinster aunt, orphaned Veronica Speedwell is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as with fending off admirers, Veronica intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans when Veronica thwarts her own attempted abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, who offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker, a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. But before the baron can reveal what he knows of the plot against her, he is found murdered—leaving Veronica and Stoker on the run from an elusive assailant as wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

This was one of the books suggested to me as part of my 12 in 12 challenge, and it’s probably one of the books that I enjoyed the most so far. I guess the best way to describe it would be a cozy mystery set in the late 19th century, and there’s a strong Miss Marple flavor to it, if Miss Marple walked a little on the wild side when she was young. 

Of course, any book that features a brilliant female lead is bound to capture my heart. This is especially true for female characters who live in times where women weren’t valued for their minds, and find ways to live authentically that are technically within the constraints of their society, while still feeling fulfilled. 

In this case, Veronica Speedwell has a brilliant scientific mind, and she’s been traveling around the world in search of butterflies for her studies. She submits scientific papers, and has experience funding her expeditions, but has been nursing her spinster aunt through her terminal illness. However, upon the death of her aunt, she is free to do whatever she wants. Unfortunately, these plans are blocked when she interferes with her own kidnapping, and has to rely on a mysterious German baron and his unsociable natural historian friend, Stoker, for protection. But when the German baron is found dead, the search for answers begins.

The connection between Veronica and Stoker gave me some serious Audrey Rose/Cresswell vibes, reminding me of Stalking Jack the Ripper in a lot of ways. Veronica is a strong-willed woman who is no shrinking violet, and has plenty of street smarts as a result of her travels. She’s not scared of speaking up and certainly isn’t worried about protecting her reputation, making her very clearly a modern woman who happened to be born a century too early. Her distinct appreciation for the male form and direct approach to most things, including … urges … had me laughing multiple times throughout the book.

Stoker, for his part, is also a modern man. Despite his hermit-like nature, he’s receptive to the type of woman that Veronica is, and isn’t threatened by her modern thinking or brilliant mind. Those two things immediately endeared him to me. There’s a definite grumpy/sunshine dynamic between these two, with Veronica as the eternal optimist, and Stoker as the eternal grouch. There’s plenty of sexual tension between these two, although they’re obviously focused on getting from one scrape to the next with a minimum of life-threatening injuries.

The pace in this story was great—there’s a nice balance between action scenes, the characters piecing clues together, and getting to know the parties involved in the story. And not just Veronica and Stoker, but the side characters as well. I loved getting to know all of them, and they didn’t just play the role of moving the story along, but also had backstories and motivations. While there’s plenty of questions answered in the story, there’s also some left to keep me on the hook, but not to worry because I’ll absolutely be reading the next book as soon as I have the time!

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 9

6 replies »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.