Ah, Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell #7, what a thorough joy I had of it! Its pacing was perfect, my beloved Veronica and Stoker were as larger-than-life as ever, both familiar and exhibiting interesting growth, and containing a mystery less cut-and-dry for them than usual, with all manner of messy feelings along with the resolution. And, ugh and love-it, a cliff-hanger of an ending: mystery solved, but our beloveds’ personal lives…well, let’s just say there needs be way more untangling than mere whodunnit.
Recently returned from their latest adventure in the fictional kingdom of Alpenwald, Stoker and Veronica are barely ensconced in the cataloguing employ of Lord Rosemorran before they’re summoned by Sir Hugo Montgomerie, the head of Special Branch, Scotland Yard, for a personal favour. He asks Stoker and Veronica to travel to a Dartmoor estate, Hathaway Hall, in aid of his god-daughter, Euphemia. The Hathaway heir, RIP Jonathan, died in the Krakatoa explosion years ago and the estate passed to the second-born son, Charles, who, with his nouveau-riche wife, Mary, are running the hall with an iron hand for improvement and return from neglect. Recently, a remarkable development: Jonathan has returned, most definitely undead. But is he Jonathan Hathaway, or an imposter? This is Sir Hugo’s request of Stoker and Veronica, to find out…especially because Veronica knew Jonathan Hathaway from her pre-Stoker adventuring. This appearance out of Veronica’s past precipitates heart-ache and a Veronica-Stoker reckoning.
Much of An Impossible Imposter‘s charm, true of all the series books, lies with Raybourn’s pithy, witty writing. Veronica’s voice is acerbic, even at times, for some readers, abrasive. In An Impossible Imposter, there is a vulnerability we haven’t seen before. I don’t want to spoil the novel, but Jonathan’s reappearance in Veronica’s life comes with confused, chaotic, youthful errors…which lead to adult regrets…which lead to issues that need to be worked out between Veronica and Stoker. We have a sense of foreboding when Veronica notes on the eve of Sir Hugo’s request, “…that afternoon was the last truly uncomplicated moment of happiness I was to know for a long time”. Because Raybourn writes Veronica retrospectively and uses V’s first-person narration as an ostensible written account of her adventures, I was later comforted by the fact that Stoker hovers over her writing to correct her account. Ah, then, I thought, they will be all right and they will be together. Phew.
Stoker and Veronica arrive at Hathaway Hall and we are introduced to the Hathaways. As always, Raybourn’s hand is as deft with secondary characters as she is with protagonists: Mary Hathaway is a study in the tyrannical aspirations of a rich trader’s daughter reaching for gentry status; Euphemia, ambitious to become an astronomer, is Mary’s project as she bullies her into genteel respectability; Charles cares only for his sheep and is hen-pecked to blushing acquiescence; and Jonathan? Is he, or isn’t he? Grandmother Ada, his adoring grandmother, is a bigot and snob, but saved by her elderly frailty. Then, there is the mysterious Anjali, Ada’s companion, more clever and important than at first meets the eye. But even more than the characters, I loved Raybourn’s descriptions of the moors and the mysteries they harbor, as gasp-inducing as what we learn about Veronica’s past. Which follows her and Stoker back to London and lands them in a heap of danger: physical as they pursue a precious object (which I’m convinced is Raybourn’s homage to Collins’s Moonstone) and are tormented by a giant of a cruel Swede and a femme fatale.
The narrative-scape is broad and Raybourn’s paints it with breath-taking sweeps of adventure, danger, and emotional peril for Stoker and Veronica. This may be one of my favourite books in the series, but I say that about all of them. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend you do (you’ll have the delicious pleasure of reading all seven in glorious order before you’re reduced to whimpering for the next one, like Stoker at the sight of Julien d’Orlande’s confections) and if you, like me, are a Raybourn fan-girl, well, then, you’ve probably beaten me to it. Miss Austen would agree, Raybourn’s An Impossible Imposter is proof “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Deanna Raybourn’s An Impossible Imposter is published by Berkley and was released on February 15th. I received an e-ARC from Berkley, via Edelweiss+, for the purpose of writing this review.