Book review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell, #2)A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Profound relief was my first reaction after reading the first half of the book. I was disappointed that one of my favorite authors (whose Lady Julia Grey mystery series I love) had created a heroine that I took an immense dislike to in the first book of the series (“A Curious Beginning”): the know-it-all, smug, and arrogant Veronica Speedwell. In this second installment of the series, Veronica has mellowed out significantly and while still opinionated and sometimes difficult, is *much* more likable and sympathetic. The series is narrated in the first person by Veronica, and in this book, she is more self-aware and less self-absorbed, to the benefit of the reader.
The other main character of the series, Stoker (short for Ravenstoke Templeton-Vane) is also less irascible, more sympathetic, and more likable than in the first book. There is additional information on Stoker’s background, which further rounds out his character.
Oh, and then there’s the mystery. Veronica and Stoker race to clear a man that has been convicted of a murder but that an important person claims is innocent. The mystery is complex, filled with interesting secondary characters (most of them suspects), and well plotted. I will say that the week or so that the main characters have to solve the mystery seems to move rather slowly (that is to say, there seems to be more activity than one might think could be fit into a week), but I wasn’t keeping particular track of the days, and it is possible that the temporal pace of the book might not require any time travel.
This second installment of the series was a TREMENDOUS improvement over the first, and I highly recommend it!

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Book review: The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn

The Dark Enquiry (Lady Julia Grey, #5)The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the final book in the Lady Julia Grey series, and I confess that I took my time reading it. I have loved this series since it came out—the first book, “Silent as the Grave” being a particular favorite. It contains one of the most romantic quotes ever: “For where thou art, there is the world itself.” (From Henry VI, Part 2)
The first few books deal with the courtship between Lady Julia Grey, the daughter of an earl, and Nicholas Brisbane, a half-gypsy, half-Scottish private detective. (Oh, and there are a few mysteries thrown in for entertainment as well.) In this final book, the two are married, and, in addition to the interesting mystery of who murdered a fake medium, we are treated to watching the couple coming to terms with their marriage and defining the parameters of their relationship. For Dorothy Sayers fans, the narrative arc of this book is similar to “Busman’s Honeymoon,” which covers a similar theme between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane after their marriage.
I absolutely loved this book—the love between Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane is well articulated and soaring, and the conflict caused by their disparate backgrounds is believable and handled well. The dialogue is witty and sharp. The mystery is well-crafted and provides enough superfluous and non-superfluous events to add to the development of the secondary characters. In addition, Lady Julia is one of ten children, and the interactions between the various siblings makes for entertaining reading.
The first book and this final book are my two favorites of the series, and perhaps it is not a coincidence that those are the two books where one of the main characters suffers a tremendous personal loss. The scenes describing the loss and its aftermath are the most heartrending of the book.
I highly recommend this series for those who like historical mysteries set in Victorian times. (And even if you aren’t a tremendous fan of Victorian times, the strong writing and well-rounded characterizations of these books are compelling enough to read them anyway.) The series is best read in order: “Silent in the Grave,” “Silent in the Sanctuary,” “Silent on the Moor,” “Dark Road to Darjeeling,” and “The Dark Enquiry.”

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Book review: A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell, #1)A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the author’s Julia Gray mystery series, so I was looking forward to the beginning of another series by her. But I was torn about this novel when I finished it. There are very few things in life that I am ambivalent about, but this book is one of them.
The narrator (heroine) really starts off the book as highly dislikable–Vernoica Speedwell is arrogant and smug and a know-it-all. It is a testament to the author’s skill that she slowly grows on you and, by the end of the book, is almost likable.
The hero of the book is likable enough in his irascible way but since the book is narrated in the first person, it’s difficult to get any sense of him outside of the narrator’s perspective.
The historical background is well-researched and well-integrated into the book. You get a sense of atmosphere and context without feeling like you’re reading a history tome. It’s well done. And the mystery is almost a side interest, as you become familiar with the characters and the secondary characters (who are mostly great fun).
There is no doubt that the second half of the book is better than the first half, but in a new series, that is understandable.
I think highly enough of the author and of the second half of the book that I will read the second book in the series when it comes out. But I still can’t decide what I think of this first installment!

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Book review: Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn

Dark Road to Darjeeling (Lady Julia, #4)Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered this series a few years ago, upon the recommendation of the lovely folks at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop (located in Seattle, of course). The series takes place in England (mostly) in the 1800s. Lady Julia Grey comes from a family of wealthy and eccentric aristocrats. She manages to trump her family’s eccentricity contest by marrying a “man in trade” (horrors!) who is half-Gypsy to boot, whom she met when he was investigating her first husband’s murder. (See the previous books in the series–“Silent in the Grave,” “Silent in the Sanctuary,” and “Silent on the Moor,” all of which are excellent.)
The author has a spare and understated writing style that is a genuine pleasure to read. The historical period is well-researched, and her characters are flawed and appealing. The mysteries are also well-plotted and well-paced, with secondary characters that are three dimensional and interesting.
This book–the 4th in the series–is no exception. This particular book takes place in India and gives nice historical detail about tea plantations without ever giving the reader the feeling that you’re reading a history textbook. The story is possibly the darkest one yet in the series and so compelling that you find yourself hoarding the last full book in the series (“The Dark Enquiry”) because you don’t want the series to end.
If I had any complaint, it would be that I wish the author would spend less time writing novellas for the series and more time writing another full-length novel!

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