An unconventional 19th-century sleuth and her equally eccentric sidekick uncover dark secrets of the upper class in this sequel to A Curious Beginning (2015).
Once Lord Rosemorran, an avid collector of natural wonders, trips over Patricia, his beloved tortoise, his fractured thigh puts paid to the South Seas expedition he’s planned with his resident natural scientists, Veronica Speedwell and the Hon. Revelstoke “Stoker” Templeton-Vane. So Veronica’s on hand to accept an invitation from Rosemorran’s sister to a society for women and a hush-hush meeting with Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s daughter. The princess wants Veronica to use her detective skills and her discretion to clear the name of Miles Ramsforth, who will hang for the murder of his mistress, Princess Louise’s artist friend Artemisia, if Veronica doesn’t prove his innocence. If she does, she may be allowed to communicate with her father, HRH the Prince of Wales, who secretly married Veronica’s mother and abandoned them both for a royal bride. Although Veronica agrees to the task and the bait, she has her own reason for meeting the father who won’t and can’t acknowledge her. Trained in self-defense and butterfly collecting, she’s not so independent that she fails to enlist her good friend Stoker to help penetrate the artistic world Artemisia inhabited—and give Stoker the dubious honor of posing in varying states of undress for a statue of Perseus. A visit to Ramsforth’s estate includes a tour of a grotto of forbidden delights, along with a very detailed, very incriminating ledger of all the visitors to the place. Gamboling with Stoker from theater box to funeral parlor to opium den, Veronica finds not only that they’ve been too quick to eliminate a suspect, but that they have more in common than their repressed passion for each other.
Although Raybourn’s wit and whimsy veer dangerously close to the twee, you have to admire her self-sufficient heroine, who divides her attention so comfortably between lepidoptery and Victorian sexcapades.