A resourceful young Victorian lady more interested in butterflies than beaus teams up with an odd cast of characters when she and her beloved uncle are charged with murder.
Merula Merriweather has always felt like an outsider. She was left as a baby with her relatives, but although they have provided a loving home, she knows her marriage prospects are slim. Her doting Uncle Rupert built a conservatory where Merula studies butterflies. When she and Rupert take an exotic example to the Royal Zoological Society meeting, however, the butterfly escapes its case and lands on the arm of one Lady Sophia, who dies on the spot. The crowd hysterically assumes the creature is poisonous, and Rupert is arrested for murder. Merula is dashed to safety by the disreputable Lord Raven Royston, and the two of them, with a group of quirky, class-spanning characters, work to find the true killer. As their search spreads from London to the countryside, Merula has occasion to witness and comment on the unfair differences among the classes. Meanwhile, Lord Raven, despite a name that sets him up for every cliché, neatly avoids such labeling. Indeed, given a plot that could have been formulaic, Conroy moves the story along at a surprisingly vigorous, enjoyable pace. Although she is given to occasional trite phrases ("It made the blood boil with fury"), she also incorporates interesting bits of Victorian-era history.
Conroy elevates the common Victorian damsel-in-distress setup to a higher level, with intelligent characters, vivid bits of history, and a plot that, while predictable, is light and pleasurable.