Raybourn begins a new saga with another memorable heroine on the heels of her popular Lady Grey mystery series. The new girl in town, Veronica Speedwell, is a plucky Victorian lepidopterist who refuses to accept the constraints of a society that limits female expectations and abilities. A foundling raised by spinster aunts, Veronica has had considerable freedom in pursuing her scientific interests, traveling abroad and conducting discreet affairs, but never, ever indulging her appetites with fellow Englishmen. Once both her guardians have died, Veronica is ready to leave her quiet country village for another adventure abroad, but those plans are impossible when she suddenly finds herself in peril, involved in a mystery she doesnít understand.
Returning from the funeral service for her aunt, Speedwell surprises an intruder ransacking the cottage. The confrontation turns into a chase. Veronica, on the losing end and in danger of abduction,
is saved by the intercession of an elderly gentleman, Baron von Stauffenbach, who implores her to travel to London under his protection. The baron has much to share with Veronica concerning the strangers invading her cottage and her real heritage but cannot yet disclose the information. Promising to return soon with the answers, the baron deposits the confused young woman in a London warehouse with a naturalist named Stoker. Ensconced in his cavernous workroom, Stoker--in the middle of a taxidermy project for an important client--grudgingly accepts the talkative stranger into his care, bristling with irritation at his visitorís impertinent questions and penchant for disturbing his workspace.
Thatís the thing about Veronica Speedwell: sheís outspoken, provocative, curious, and unwilling to defer to the authority of her host. Proud of her education, broad traveling experiences, and ability to make her own way in the world, Veronica chafes at any suggestion of inferiority. Clearly Stoker and Speedwell, while linked by necessity, are destined to conduct a battle of wills, arguments that ratchet up the sexual tension and establish a pattern of bickering that will define their relationship, both anxious for the baronís return. Unfortunately the baron is murdered,
robbing Veronica of any explanation for her current predicament and unsure of the source of the danger to her life.
So begins an adventure on the run with Stoker--himself a suspect in the baronís murder.
Veronica and the naturalist flee the city and the strangers in pursuit of Speedwell since the newspaper announcement of her auntís death. Itís a colorful cat-and-mouse game, Stoker and Speedwell forced to trust one another to survive.
Their serpentine journey to the truth starts with a return to the country traveling show he left behind years ago, a welcome opportunity to avoid police while planning an investigation of the baronís murder that will require a return to London and a safe place to hide. Though Stoker matches her in vigor and rage, Veronica never ceases her determined rebellion against society in general and her current circumstances in particular. She delights in outwitting him, secretly prying into Stokerís carefully hidden secrets.
Lacking the sophistication and charm of Raybournís Lady Grey, Veronica is an acquired taste--too often righteous and unbending, not yet tempered by life experience that might soften her aggression or inability to control her impulses. Speedwell is a thorny creature, arrogant and opinionated, attracted to Stoker and openly lascivious (while hiding behind propriety). Stoker likes a challenge, willing to play this game of wits as the pair parries and feints through the drama, the truth about Veronicaís heritage eventually revealed. Love may indeed be in the air, but not yet: in true Victorian tradition, the couple engages only in foreplay in this first encounter. Raybourn has unleashed her inner feminist with a protagonist that might accept the handsome Stoker in her life, but will never do so quietly.