A Curious Beginning By Deanna Raybourn
4 out of 5 Stars
Deanna Raybourn definitely has a type. Strong, intelligent women, and the rakish, flawed men who trail in their wake. Since her debut with Silent in the Grave (The first in her Lady Julia Grey series), Raybourn has featured refreshingly strong female leads in her books, women who are smart and capable, yet fully human and flawed.
I certainly enjoy the theme she has set for herself, and “A Curious Beginning,” was exactly as I expect from Raybourn.
This is the first book in a new series featuring protagonist Veronica Speedwell, and takes place around the same era as her previous series (the mid 1880s). Veronica Speedwell is a woman ahead of her time, an amateur lepidopterist, willfully headstrong, searingly direct, and far too independent (not to mention an orphan of unknown parentage). Returning from the funeral of her elderly aunt, she finds a strange man has broken into her cottage, and proceeded to wreck the place in search of something. From there a fortuitous meeting with a kindly stranger (who, naturally, seems to know something about her past) whirls her to the docks of London, where we meet the tall, dark, and brooding leading man of the series, Stoker (all leading men are tall and dark for Deanna Raybourn, and they all brood professionally). When the kindly stranger winds up dead soon afterwards, Veronica and Stoker are thrown together to try to solve the mystery not only of the murder, but of Veronica’s past.
I love Deanna Raybourn’s books for a fun mystery with well-researched historical details, and witty banter between her protagonists. “A Curious Beginning” didn’t disappoint in this regard, the book was an enjoyable day and half read, and her characters, while occasionally ridiculous, generally manage to be sympathetic and interesting. Raybourn is very good at layering mysteries; Stoker seems to have quite a few secrets of his own, and is quite loathe to share. Her plot is also loaded with the prerequisite red herrings and false revelations. And, if I can speak frankly, I always love having a strong female protagonist take the lead. I’m sexist like that.
I do feel, however, that this book isn’t as strong as her Julia Grey series. Veronica Speedwell as a character is in some respects so far ahead of her time as to be anachronistic. Let’s not forget that the book is set in the latter years of Victorian England, and sometimes it seems quite impossible for a woman to get away with the things that she does in the story. At times, her character seems like someone who would be more at home in a novel set in the 1920s or 1930s. Additionally, aspects of the mystery are a bit sloppy and overly telegraphed. A reasonably astute reader has a good chance of figuring out most of the plot with 100 pages still to go. Fortunately, I generally enjoy Raybourn’s writing style, so continuing on through the plot wasn’t difficult.
In sum, if you enjoy a fun and frivolous historical mystery, this book is a good bet. I’d say take it out to the hammock or down to the beach, and enjoy a nice, relaxing read.