Book Review: A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn
By Susan AmperMarch 6, 2020
London, 1888. A royal scandal, a murdered madame, and the most notorious serial killer in history call Veronica Speedwell to the aide of the royal family yet again.
It’s Autumn, and the intrepid, endearing, adventuring Veronica Speedwell, steps off a train from Cornwall straight into a London terrorized by Jack the Ripper. A Murderous Relation is the 5th outing for Deanna Raybourn’s daring lepidopterist heroine aided as always by natural historian, explorer, and taxidermist Stoker. And this time, the pair encounter murder, mayhem, monarchy, and the joy of once again working together.
Veronica is the unacknowledged daughter of the Prince of Wales while Stoker is the son of a viscount making him an “Honourable,” an honorific he doesn’t much care for. The series pokes fun at the aristocracy even as our adventurers always answer their call to arms while they continue to catalog the Rosemorran Collection belonging to the Earl of Rosemorran their patron and landlord. Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk, “Lord Rosemorran’s elderly great-aunt and éminence grise behind the throne” has made it her “mission to protect the royal family—not least from themselves. Lady Wellie meddled strategically, and no one save the royal family and a handful of very highly placed people of influence knew of her power.”
And sordid scandals seem especially linked to the royals. In 1888 the honor goes to Prince Albert Victor aka “Eddy,” who has gifted a diamond star to the owner of a private sex club. Stoker, however, considers that whatever the scandal is this time, it can be but a “tempest in a teacup” considering the royal foibles already known to the public.
But Stoker has not taken into account the involvement of the notorious and elusive Ripper, a high-priced bordello, its proprietress, Madame Aurore, or Veronica’s step-mother, The Princess of Wales, Alexandra of Denmark. Continuing to trip over royal relatives at every turn, the princess shows Veronica and Stoker her own diamond star with an engraving on the back of the Prince of Wales feathers. “The badge of three white ostrich plumes was recognizable anywhere. Princes of Wales had been engraving, embroidering, painting, gilding, and jewelling the image on anything that belonged to them for the better part of five centuries.” Veronica is only surprised “none of them had managed to tattoo it upon his person yet.” The young prince commissioned a similar star embellishing it further with his initials, AVCE, Albert Victor Christian Edward. The princess explains that “the jewel can be traced to him” and “it is imperative that it be retrieved before that happens.” Lady Wellie also fears that Eddy might actually be the Ripper. A Banbury tale that nevertheless prods Veronica and Stoker into action.
With the help of Stoker’s Brother, Viscount-Templeton Tane, Veronica and Stoker are appropriately costumed to go undercover at the brothel. Eventually, they join the dancing.
“[Veronica] kept her eyes fixed upon [Stoker’s], my arms resting lightly where his clasped firmly. He was my anchor, my sole point of reference in a world that had spun too fast, that would have thrown me off my balance if he had let go of me. But he did not let go. He kept me upright, anchored, and that was the moment I understood how he had changed me. I had been so long on my own, so apart from everyone, that I had not realized how he had pierced my solitude. I had finally acknowledged that I loved him, but it was not until that moment that I understood I needed him.
At this realization, Veronica ends the dance and hares off on her own in search of the diamond, leaving a flummoxed Stoker staring after her. Since their return to London, Veronica realizes her feelings for Stoker.
She had been aware of a creeping sensation of doubt. That a physical union between us would be gratifying I had no doubt. I was only too aware of Stoker’s many attractions. But this new and burgeoning habit to rely upon him terrified me to my marrow. I had learnt not to be dependent through harshest of circumstances. Could I now alter that practice? Could I really throw my hard-won independence to the wind and lean upon him?
It was a question that drove me to act that night with reckless bravado. I had to prove to myself that I was still the same explorer who packed her petticoats and her parasol and set off to see the world. I had to peer into the looking glass of my soul and see once more the intrepid spirit that burned within. If I lost her, who then would I be? A mere appendage of Stoker’s? Never I vowed.
Not an appendage, rather a partner. Veronica and Stoker break into Madame Aurore’s room and find the star and “Eddy”, who wants it back. The standoff is ended when the trio see that Madame Aurore has been murdered.
On fleeing the premises, the three are abducted and events move into the arena of slapstick. Their abductor is Veronica’s Uncle de Clare who hopes to be rid of “Eddy” and place Veronica on the throne.
They manage their escape in a duly spectacular fashion and Prince Charles Albert Victor is returned to his mother unharmed. As to Stoker and Veronica—have they finally found themselves a comfortable bed in which to fall into each other’s arms? Alas, dear reader, you shall have to get your hands on a copy of A Murderous Relation for the answer to that question.