Review: Deanna Raybourn’s A SINISTER REVENGE (Veronica Speedwell #8)

Sinister_RevengeAfter my recent disappointment in Raybourn’s Killers of a Certain Age, I admit to a lack of confidence in the latest Veronica Speedwell, despite the series being one of my favourites. What if Raybourn has lost her magic? My reader nervousness, however, dissipated on the first page of Veronica and Stoker’s latest adventure, A Sinister Revenge. And this time around, Raybourn brings Stoker’s brothers along, older bro Tiberius, the imperious looker, pretend-dissolute, and paterfamilias, much as he’d scoff at the role, and the adorable baby-bro, Merryweather, the vicar, innocent, handsome, and a trifle bumbling. They are brought together when Tiberius’s past necessitates a trip to the family’s Devon estate, Cherboys, and also as it returns to endanger him. The publisher’s blurb will fill in some details:

Veronica’s natural-historian beau, Stoker, has been away in Bavaria for months and their relationship is at an impasse. But when Veronica shows up before him with his brother, Tiberius, Lord Templeton-Vane, he is lured back home by an intriguing job offer: preparing an iguanodon for a very special dinner party.

Tiberius has received a cryptic message—along with the obituaries of two recently deceased members of his old group of friends, the Seven Sinners—that he too should get his affairs in order. Realizing he is in grave danger but not knowing why, he plans a reunion party for the remaining Sinners at his family estate to lure the killer out while Veronica and Stoker investigate.

As the guests arrive and settle in, the evening’s events turn deadly. More clues come to light, leading Veronica, Stoker, and Tiberius to uncover a shared past among the Sinners that has led to the fatal present. But the truth might be far more sinister than what they were prepared for.

The strength of Raybourn’s latest Veronica-and-Stoker mystery lies in her inching towards an ensemble cast of wonderful characters. Because of the mystery’s focus on the family estate, it also has the narrative focus of a closed-room-mystery feel, to its credit and the reader’s enjoyment. On one side are new characters embroiled in the mystery and key to its unravelling. But they’re interesting beyond their mystery “roles,” the remaining Seven Sinners and their wives: stalwart Sir James MacIver and statuesque Lady Augusta, mercurially uxorious Pietro Salviati and wife, Beatrice. More than anyone, I loved Elspeth, the spinster sister to local doctor Timothy Gresham, and her frustrated ambitions to be recognized as a fossil-hunter.

I adored the growing warmth of the Templeton-Vane brothers: Stoker and Tiberius, whose usual loggerheads ease to grudging love, and Merryweather’s puppy-like warmth, he who loves everyone and is easily loved in return. He even thaws the usually cool-hearted Veronica. Stoker and Veronica’s impasse lingers, but the camaraderie of investigation, uniqueness of seeing Stoker in his childhood home (frankly, Nanny’s cheroot-smoking appearance calling him “Stokie” was priceless), and their love for each other heal past hurts and bridge estrangement.

Is there a more romantic, touching, and tender lover than Stoker? It’s Veronica, however, who has to make a wonderful grand gesture. She struggles with this and it makes her character grow. Raybourn’s latest Speedwell mystery builds warmth and closeness among the characters. From the first book, when Veronica and Stoker were introduced as loners and their connections fraught and difficult, well, Raybourn has brought them a long way and it makes for a thoroughly satisfying emotional arc.

As Raybourn builds ties among her now-ensemble characters, she brings a more emotion-centred raison d’être to the unravelling of the mystery (and a lovely feminist touch). Without spoiling for the reader, the mystery’s strength was the sense of rightness in the motivations. Indeed, as the dénouement transpired, I thought it neared tragic proportions. And as Tiberius, Merryweather, and the reunited Stoker and Veronica make their way home, there is a rightness and settledness to everyone’s life, a maturity and security lovely to read about. It is, in its way, an HEA! I hope this resolution doesn’t mean we’ve come to the end of Stoker and Veronica, Tiberius, Nanny, and motormouth maid Lily (loved her!), and I must have more Merryweather. A wonderful addition to a beloved series. With Miss Austen, Raybourn’s Sinister Revenge is “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.

Deanna Raybourn’s  A Sinister Revenge is published by Berkley and releases today. I received an e-arc, from Berkley, via Netgalley, for the purpose of writing this review, which is my honest opinion.

8 thoughts on “Review: Deanna Raybourn’s A SINISTER REVENGE (Veronica Speedwell #8)

  1. Well, rats.

    Another series to add to Cordillera TBR of Doom.

    (yes, I confess: I haven’t read any of the books in this series yet)

    Aside: I’m so glad this worked for you; I have found that occasionally a beloved author will try something new that really doesn’t work for me, while still writing in the style/subgenre/fill in the blank that I like, but it’s always nerve-racking to wait and see if it’s just the subject or genre, rather than the author’s writing as a whole, that has changed.


    1. Oh, I think, in particular, the character of Veronica is so darn prickly and difficult in book one (but I don’t think you’d balk at a difficult heroine!) that it’s great, if you decide to read the series, to see how she grows over the series’ course. And how Stoker helps her do so, with support and love and expectations, instead of protective masculine bullshittery…is that even a word.

      Thank you, I was wary, but this turned out to be everything I’ve enjoyed in the past and more. I think this series is better than her Lady Jane Grey one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m trying to remember why I haven’t read her–I know I have several of the Lady Jane Grey’s in the print TBR cordillera–and I think that the great hellish reading slump hit as her books were inching up towards “this is next”.


        1. I’m really glad your slump is over. I had a blogging slump and that was pretty awful. It’s been pretty hard, hasn’t it, regaining some sense of a reading life? So much went awry during lockdown and it didn’t even feel like it at the time. But the aftermath…

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I am also several books behind, but I have the pleasure of looking forward to this one. Now I’m off to the library because my copy of The Key To Deceit(Ashley Weaver) just came up on the hold list!

    Liked by 1 person

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