A Curious Beginning - #1 in Veronica Speedwell series - cozy mystery set in the UK
Veronica Speedwell #1 in series: London 1800s. A feisty, outspoken, liberated heroine. A strong, emotionally damaged, mercurial hero. A cozy mystery with murder, lies and deception galore, scientific minds being challenged to solve a winding trail of clues.
A Curious Beginning (Speedwell #1), Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Published 2015, 339 pages
Set in London in the 1800s, a very independent young woman avoids an abduction and is saved by a baron who is murdered shortly thereafter. Veronica is entrusted to the care of a cantankerous, but protective man and the two find themselves on the run from persons unknown who are trying to kill her.
Veronica Speedwell is a spunky, ahead-of-her-time liberated woman – a bit quirky, opinionated, and pushy. At first I was intrigued by this portrayal of a strong woman who spoke her mind, and in the Victorian era no less. But by the end of the book the lack of any timidity or weakness or uncertainty became tiresome and doesn't make for a believable character.
" We are, as a gender, undereducated and infantilized to the point of idiocy. But those of us who have been given the benefit of learning and useful occupation, well, we are proof that the traditional notions of feminine delicacy and helplessness are the purest poppycock. " -Victoria Speedwell
Her protector, Stoker, is a little more interesting - he at least displays some range of emotions. He has his own sordid history that is slowly revealed while the two try to establish trust and a way to work together to investigate the mystery.
The mystery part of the book is barely a mystery. Who is trying to kill Veronica and why? Not a lot of actual investigation happens, the clues seem to just drop into their laps. The answer to the mystery.....pretty far fetched.
The best part of the book is the strong, rapid fire dialog and the shared interest Veronica and Stoker have of the natural world - she a butterfly collector and he an explorer and sample collector (turned taxidermist). The treatment of science and that a woman was educated and ready to make a living with a scientific background is great.
"It is men who have kept women downtrodden and poorly educated, so burdened by domesticity and babies they can scarcely raise their heads. You put us on pedestals and wrap us in cotton wool, cluck over us as being too precious and too fragile for any real labor of the mind, yet where is the concern for the Yorkshire woman working herself into an early grave in a coal mine? The factory girl who chokes herself to an untimely death on bad air? The wife so worn by repeated childbearing that she is dead at thirty? No, my dear Stoker, your sex has held the reins of power for too long. And I daresay you will not turn them loose without a fight."
My quibbles aside, I actually enjoyed the read but not sure I'll read any further in the series. Recommended for readers who enjoy a cozy mystery, a touch of a burgeoning romance (I'm sure will continue to bloom in future books), stories set in the Victorian era, or a book with a very strong heroine. I picked this up because it's the September pick for the #ModernMrsDarcy bookclub. It's a new-to-me author.
photo by Terrie Purkey