Book Review for “A Curious Beginning: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery” by Deanna Raybourn
At the age of only five and twenty, Veronica Speedwell is now not only orphaned, but also without any guardians, as now both her spinster aunts have died. With an aim to start a new life where she can hunt butterflies across the globe. However, the first thing she’s subjected to coming home from the funeral is a break-in and an attempted kidnapping. Her rescue comes in the form of a German baron, who sweeps her off to London and deposits her with his friend Stoker, with the promise to reveal everything. Unfortunately, before he can do so, the baron is murdered and Stoker is the main suspect. With no other option than to go on the run, it looks like Veronica is going to need more than a butterfly net to capture the truth.
Two authors, Greer Macallister and Ariel Lawhon, recommended Raybourn’s novels to me after they were both fawning over the latest installment in the Veronica Speedwell series. Since I’m wont to start reading a series in the middle, I found this novel – the first Veronica Speedwell mystery – and decided to give it a try. Remember, I don’t often like to read series, but I’m still looking to get stuck into some cozy mystery novels that could at least partially live up to the master of the genre, Agathe Christie. When these two authors – both of whom I admire – told me that I’m “in for a treat” with Raybourn’s books, I thought it would be rude of me to ignore them.
To start off, I think I see why Greer and Ariel like these books. All of their own novels feature very strong, independent women, who need to overcome adversity, and often can depend only upon themselves and their wits. Veronica Speedwell is exactly that type of female character, and yes, they were right, I found her to be totally delightful. Furthermore, Veronica is not just smart, she’s very resourceful, and she also has very finely honed instincts, which make her both able to trust her gut, but also be automatically skeptical of things that don’t immediately add up for her. Veronica is also quite headstrong, probably because she believes in herself so fully. More importantly, she can be very witty, if not downright funny. In short, Veronica Speedwell is precisely the type of amateur sleuth/detective that was made for readers to adore. I believe that Raybourn drew Veronica with huge amounts of love, and that shows throughout this novel.
Raybourn also knows how to draw out and develop a mystery, with lots of twists and turns, peppered with just enough minor characters to take us down these paths, be they open-ended or dead. Furthermore, these characters end up being either totally trustworthy or extremely suspicious and dubious, and until either Veronica or Stoker can figure out which ones they are, there’s lots of fun bickering to keep us all guessing about motives and methods. I have to say that to start a book with almost no backstory, and within the first 10-20 pages you’ve already got a break-in, an attempted kidnapping, and your protagonist running for her life, is a bold move. And truthfully, I thought it was actually very refreshing to start a book like that, just throwing the readers in feet first. Thankfully, Raybourn fills in many holes in both Veronica’s and Stoker’s background – the former of which is the central part of the mystery they have to solve.
Now, all of this sounds great, but to be honest, I didn’t find this book to be perfect, and the main reason for this is difficult to talk about without revealing spoilers. Let’s just say that in solving the mystery, the explanation we get seems… well… farfetched, to say the least. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure I was totally happy about the resolution, but to her credit, I do believe that Raybourn has left an antagonist in the wings that she might be able to bring back in a subsequent novel.
All told, the big questions are, have I found the next Agathe Christie, and will I become a faithful follower of this series? Regarding the former, Raybourn has surely come the closest to recreating that “Christie” feeling than any other cozy mystery novel I’ve read so far. Mind you, I think Veronica is a touch more acerbic of a character than Christie’s ever were, but you wouldn’t want any author to be a total copycat. As for the latter, I have to admit that while I’d like to find out what mess Veronica and Stoker get into next, I’m not rushing out to get the next installment just yet, but I might get it someday, and I certainly wouldn’t mind if someone wanted to gift me a copy (my birthday is in late June, in case you were wondering). So, I think that this means I’m going to recommend this book with a very healthy four out of five stars, since it is a very fun, historical, cozy mystery, but I’ll put the rest of the books on my “maybe” list.
Titan Books released “A Curious Beginning: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery” by Deanna Raybourn in October 2015. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (supporting independent book shops during this pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.
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