Deanna Raybourn’s Victorian-set Veronica Speedwell mysteries are my second favourite historical mystery series with a delicious dose of tantalizing romance, the first being C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr Regency-set ones. I’ve extolled the virtues and joys of the latter on numerous occasions and you might well be sick of reading me doing so. I will here fan-squee for Raybourn’s.
A lepidopterist by trade, Veronica is a marriage-eschewing, proto-feminist, sharp-tongued beauty (I like to imagine her as a A-Place-In-the-Sun Elizabeth Taylor) who works with her piratically-handsome, former navy-surgeon, taxidermist sidekick, Stoker, aka “Revelstoke” (more True Blood Joe Manganiello than Pirates Orlando Bloom). Veronica and Stoker work together, from their home base, their friend’s Lord Rosemorran’s London estate, where their scientific expertise works to establish his museum; most of the time, they spar, banter, and smoulder at each other, all the while denying their slow-burn romance, undeniable attraction, and deep love for one another. Also, they unearth murderers. It’s a formula made to win me over. It did, from book one, A Curious Beginning, and does, with this, the fourth installment (#5 waits in the wings, thank you, Berkley!!!).
More than anything, I love Raybourn’s Veronica and Stoker for their witty dialogue, not in an urbane Oscar-Wilde way, but as a means of hiding their deep, abiding, and vulnerable love for each other. Raybourn has cleverly stoked my reader fires of longing for them to get together and there’s a hint and promise to A Dangerous Collaboration I adored. Slow burn, smouldering embers, and promise of wild passion … the anticipation-ride has been terrific. Now, I’m ready for love avowals and the working-out of a relationship. (I hope it isn’t as tormented as Raybourn’s other sleuthing couple, Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane.)
Raybourn does such a great job of giving you delightful details about Veronica and Stoker. Veronica’s eyes, given any room, will take in Stoker’s beauty. She ogles, she admires, she lusts. Stoker, on the other hand, while throwing his own verbal darts at Veronica, is quietly loving and protecting her. Hilariously amusing is Stoker’s prodigious appetite: more often than not, Veronica gawks at Stoker as he’s downing sandwiches, slicing ginormous pieces of cake, or cracking candy with his formidably strong, white teeth. (There’s a moment of sheer adorableness as Stoker’s breaks a peppermint humbug with a rock and gives the bigger piece to Veronica. That’s love!)
Other than spending time once more with the irresistible Stoker and Veronica, I loved that A Dangerous Collaboration is set on an isolated Cornish isle, St. Maddern’s, features a gothic castle, and brings Stoker’s intriguing older brother into the series, Tiberius, Lord Templeton-Vane. Tiberius asks Veronica to pose as his fiancée when he lures her to St. Maddern’s with the promise of rare glass-winged butterflies. True to his heart’s desire form, Stoker follows them and makes Tiberius’s purpose complete, to visit his old childhood friend Malcolm Romilly, the sole heir to the Cornish island castle.
Malcolm has remained isolated on his isle, with his sister Mertensia, sister-in-law Helena, and nephew Caspian, caring for the ancestral pile and the islanders under his protection since the disappearance? death? of his wife, Rosamund, on their wedding day. Tiberius wants to help his old friend find out what happened to his short-lived beloved wife and who better to uncover the truth of things than Veronica and Stoker. (I will admit, after I came to novel’s end, how clever I thought my hastily jotted chapter two note was: “Am I wrong, or does this have a Manderlay vibe?”)
I am an indifferent mystery reader: I don’t care about, or for the actual solving of the mystery, nor will I recall, given 24 hours, any of its particulars. I read mysteries for the characters, their relationships’ development, the ethic, and mood. A Dangerous Collaboration had plenty. Raybourn brought Tiberius and Stoker’s strained, at best, relationship, to a pitch of intensity and then, understanding and peace. She did the same, with the delicious promise of consummation, “devoutly” having been wished by this reader, for Veronica and Stoker. Equally compelling was Mertensia’s character, a feral spinster with a poison garden and the islanders’ healer and comforter. A Dangerous Collaboration, another great addition to a beloved series. I look forward to the next. While this stands alone well, I highly recommend you read all from first to this wonderful fourth.