A Curious Beginning is the launch of Raybourn’s newest series featuring amateur sleuth, adventuress, lepidopterist, and lover of foreign men, Miss Veronica Speedwell. Veronica has just buried her spinster aunt, her last living guardian, and she’s ready for another adventure. However, this adventure is much closer to home than she could have anticipated. Arriving home from her aunt’s funeral she surprises a burglar and hitches a ride to London with a German baron that claims to have known her mother and father, both of whom Veronica has no remembrance of.
Once in London, her self-appointed guardian stashes Veronica with a trusted ally, Stoker. Stoker is none to happy to have Veronica as a guest; he is not impressed with her opinions on his collection, but he nonetheless complies. When the baron is murdered, Veronica and Stoker are suddenly on the run. Stoker is the prime suspect and doesn’t quite trust the fact that Veronica wasn’t complicit in the murder of his friend. And well, Veronica, she’s not one to turn down an adventure.
What should have been an amazing read ended up being a bit lackluster for me. Veronica should have been an intriguing heroine; however, her quirkiness ended up coming across as a caricature rather than something authentic. While Veronica’s originally was intriguing and refreshing for a Victorian mystery, I have to confess to finding somewhat over-the-top by the end of the book.
I had been an obstinate child and a willful one too, and it did not escape me that it had cost these two spinster ladies a great deal of adjustment to make a place for me in their lives. It was for this reason, as I grew older, that I made every effort to curb my obstinacy and be cheerful and placid with them. And it was for this reason that I eventually made my escape, fleeing England whenever possible for tropical climes where I could indulge my passion for lepidoptery. It was not until my first butterflying expedition at the age of eighteen – a monthlong sojourn in Switzerland – that I discovered men could be just as interesting as moths.
Initially, Veronica is a wholly unique and adventurous young woman. However, Veronica’s individuality quickly ventured into pure artifice. Veronica’s character was so unique that it became unrealistic and less entertaining. The idea behind Veronica was great, but for me, the execution of such a character was lacking. I didn’t need to be told over and over again that Veronica was a different kind of woman.
As for readers of the mystery genre, I have to say I think you’ll likely be disappointed by A Curious Beginning. This one is all snappy dialogue and not much substance. The dialogue between Stoker and Veronica is fantastic:
I had just returned to the caravan and resumed adventuring with Arcadia Brown when Mr. Stoker burst in, soaking wet and covered in a soapy lather. His hair was dripping rivulets onto the floor, and he had wrapped a bath sheet about himself like a toga. He loomed over me, drenched and panting, having obviously run all the way from the bath tent.
“You look like one of the less capable Roman emperors,” I observed. “Go back and finish the job properly.”
“I have a crow to pluck with you. It just occurred to me – “
“It just occurred to you that I was at liberty and might make my escape. Yes, I know. You are a wretched abductor, Mr. Stoker. I suggest you do not take up felonious activity as a career.”
His expression was sullen. “You will have to make allowances. It is, after all, my first abduction.”
However, snappy one-liners and witty repartee does not compensate for the lackluster mystery. Stoker and Veronica never really do any investigating. Instead they run off to the circus and say witty things to one another. A small part of A Curious Beginning was actually devoted to who killed the German baron who helped Veronica. And the discovery of Veronica’s parentage just didn’t seem as impactful as it should have been. As mysteries go, this one was very light.
So, A Curious Beginning didn’t particularly impress me. That said, the back-and-forth between Veronica and Stoker was entertaining and that alone would make me consider reading the next book in the series, although I will be hoping for a stronger mystery and not side adventures where our hero and heroine seem to forget all about the murder they just might be imprisoned for.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
If you enjoyed the snappy repartee between Stoker and Veronica, Amanda Quick’s Ravished is a great follow-up. Harriet and Gideon’s conversations are awesome and Harriet is a character very much like Veronica in terms of independence and marching to the beat of her own drum. Did I mention Harriet has an interest in dinosaurs? No small feat for a Regency miss!
I really liked the idea of Veronica as a lady adventurer and my next two recommendations feature heroines that embody the adventurous spirit of Veronica. First, there is Candice Proctor’s Beyond the Sunrise featuring a surly reluctant hero and a independent, unconventional heroine. Not as witty as A Curious Beginning, but will likely satisfy those who were hoping for a more romantically satisfying ending. Read my full review here.
My second lady adventurer is Cordelia O’Keefe from Betina Krahn’s The Book of True Desires. This was a stunner of a book and I loved the humour and adventure of this one. I don’t think there’s another romance that features a hero that is also a butler. Those looking for a faster paced read will enjoy this one. Read my full review here.