Another volume in a beloved series, read in two days, and now I have to wait till next March for the next one … (be warned, if you haven’t read the series, and you ought, there be spoilers ahead).
Lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell and her partner-in-adventure and love-of-her life, Stoker Templeton-Vane, are caught up in another intrigue involving her half-brother, Prince Eddy, a diamond, a brothel, its procuress, and ever more threats to the British royal family. At its opening, comfortably ensconced at their friend’s, Lord Rosemorran’s estate, Bishop’s Folly, in charge of curating his vast collection, Veronica and Stoker enjoy a respite from their adventures in the best way they know, bantering, bickering, and anticipating love-making. Raybourn has introduced a new tenderness in their exchanges, especially on Veronica’s part, the more hard-assed of the two. A new-found peace and rightness are between them. Raybourn doesn’t disappoint us in this volume: Veronica and Stoker, after kidnappings, extortion, villains on their tail, save the day once again and FINALLY, FINALLY achieve their HEA. (The novel is also set against the backdrop of the Whitechapel murders and Raybourn includes one vibrant, creepy, masterful scene with the Ripper.)
Their latest intrepid, save-the-day-and-monarchy adventure is set off by their friend and confidante, Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk, a Lady-Granthemish figure whose sole purpose is to protect the crown, as well as Veronica and Stoker. Prince Eddy, second heir to the throne, after his father, Edward, has gotten himself entangled with Madame Aurore, proprietess of the den of iniquity, Club de l’Etoile, and recipient of a precious jewel identified with Eddy’s name and favour. Lady Wellingtonia sets Veronica and Stoker to retrieve the jewel and save the crown from scandal. A delicious appearance by Stoker’s provocative, competitive brother, Tiberius, ensues when Stoker and Veronica appeal to him for costumes to penetrate the club. From there, high jinx ensue and Veronica and Stoker are at the heart of it.
What makes Raybourn’s series a favourite is the relationship between Veronica and Stoker: partners, friends, and now, finally, committed lovers and Raybourn’s witty turns of phrase and way with dialogue. It’s been a long road to get Veronica and Stoker to this peaceful, passionate, committed end and the journey has been stupendous. Stoker is ever the steady, reliable, funny, loving companion, loyal, honourable, and vavavoom gorgeous. Veronica’s beauty is no less, but she’s had to change to come to the point, as she does here, of admitting how much she loves and needs Stoker. Stoker knew from the first and has waited with roguish-eye-twinkles and endless patience for her: he’s been faithful, stalwart and gives her the space and support to be herself.
When the novel opens, Veronica and Stoker’s relationship has been stalled (and the dangers they encounter stall it longer, but the anticipation is delicious):
In spite of his numerous attractions — and the fact that we were both more than a little in love with one another — we had hitherto resisted the more primitive blood urges. Stoker frequently swam in whatever available pond or river provided a chilly respite, and I submerged my yearnings in rigorous scientific study and the odd evening spent sampling the collection of robust phallic artifacts.
Early on in the series, Raybourn makes Veronica and Stoker’s attraction apparent. However, it’s a feminist twist that Veronica is the more ogling of the two. When the series opens, she has a healthy sexual appetite she indulges frequently. But from the moment she meets Stoker, Raybourn cleverly develops her character as such that Veronica cleaves to Stoker more and more: in body, mind, and spirit. I especially loved the waltz Stoker and Veronica share and the moment of revelation for her:
He was my anchor, my sole point of reference in a world that spun too fast, that would have thrown me off my balance if he had let go of me. But he did not let go. He kept me upright, anchored, and that was the moment that I understood how he had changed me. I had been so long on my own, so apart from everyone, that I had not realized how he had pierced my solitude. I had finally acknowledged that I loved him, but it was not until that moment that I understood I needed him.
As for Stoker, it’s lovely that he’s hers from the first moment she walks into his taxidermist’s studio. Vulnerability comes easily to Stoker; for Veronica, this is a poignant, beautiful revelation because she’s been alone so long, it’s difficult for her to be vulnerable. But she has finally found her safe-space with Stoker. Thus, Raybourn creates her second great sleuthing couple, united in love, intellectual curiosity, and honour to do what is right and just. With Miss Austen, herein we found “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Deanna Raybourn’s A Murderous Relation is published by Berkley. It was released in March and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Berkley, via Netgalley.