Wednesday 19 June 2019
#CBR11 Book 26: "A Dangerous Collaboration" by Deanna Raybourn
Rating: 4 stars
Spoiler warning! This is book four in an ongoing series, and while you get enough information to follow the plot, you're definitely better off starting at the beginning. Especially since there are quite a lot stuff that's been building for the entire series that finally begins to come to fruition in this book, and it'll be a lot more satisfying if you've read the preceding three books.
Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker's brother calls in a favor. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly's house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancée—much to Stoker's chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed. Every invited guest has a connection to Romilly's wife, Rosamund, who disappeared on her wedding day three years ago, and a dramatic dinner proves she is very much on her husband's mind.
As spectral figures, ghostly music, and mysterious threats begin to plague the partygoers, Veronica enlists Stoker's help to discover the host's true motivations. And as they investigate, it becomes clear that there are numerous mysteries surrounding the Romilly estate, and every person present has a motive to kill Rosamund...
Veronica begins the book by surprising her close friend and detecting partner Stoker by announcing that she'll be accompanying their patron Lord Rosemorran's sister, Lady Cordelia on an extended trip to Madeira. She claims Lady Cordelia needs an urgent vacation, while she wants to look for new species of butterflies. Veronica is absolutely not trying to get away from any awkward or meaningful conversations about the possible shift in her and Stoker's relationship after the events of A Treacherous Curse. Oh no, certainly not. She encourages Stoker to write to her in her absence, he refrains to. Hence they don't communicate at all for over six months.
When she returns from her journey, Veronica discovers that Lord Tiberius, Stoker's eldest brother needs her assistance and can tempt her with a rare species of butterfly believed to nearly be extinct as thanks for her services. He's visiting an old friend on an island off the coast of Cornwall and doesn't want to travel alone. Despite his brother's wishes, Stoker obviously shows up at the last minute, not happy to have Veronica alone in his brother's company.
When they arrive on the island, they discover that not only is it remote, but everything there is terribly Gothic. Their host, Lord Malcolm, still grieves his missing wife. There's his wastrel nephew and drunken sister-in-law, his eccentric herbalist sister, the dutiful housekeeper and it doesn't take long for Stoker and Veronica to deduce that Tiberius also had a strong connection to the missing woman. He wanted Veronica and Stoker to accompany him because it's been three years since Rosamund's disappearance (and likely death) and he knows neither of them can resist a mystery, especially when they're isolated on an island with nothing else to do.
While Veronica and Stoker have been in some pretty serious scrapes during their past adventures, nothing has come closer to ending them both than this current mystery. The guilty party is none too happy about the amateur sleuths come to visit and is willing to go to great lengths to dispose of them both.
Veronica spends a lot of this book desperately trying to avoid any sort of conversation with Stoker about the way their relationship is developing from fast friendship into something more. She has always prided herself on her independence and free spirit, and doesn't want to be tied down by societal conventions like matrimony or monogamy. Yet she spends her entire journey away with Lady Cordelia thinking about Stoker, wondering why he won't write to her, and when Stoker announces that he is quite happy with them remaining just friends (yet keeps taking his clothes off in front of her every chance she gets), she is forced to start reevaluating what it is she really wants for her future.
Lord Tiberius' rather obvious flirtation only makes it more obvious to her that despite her claims to want the freedom to choose her lovers, she's not really interested in anyone else, and pretty much hasn't been for a long time. Stoker, of course, seems perfectly willing to wait her out, and keep tempting her until she is forced to make a declaration of her own. As they end up in ever more deadly situations, the only question is if they're both going to survive long enough for her to be able to admit her feeling to him.
Lord Tiberius has been an interesting supporting character in some of the earlier books, and I enjoyed discovering more about him. As it turns out, he's not a particularly nice man (but we sort of knew that already), but there is pain and loss in his past and a lot of that has turned him into the manipulative and devious person he is now.
My favourite part of this entire book is obviously what the developments mean for Stoker and Veronica going forward. Sadly, the next book isn't out until sometime next year, so I guess I'll just have to impatiently wait (and re-read my favourite parts of this one).
Judging a book by its cover: I really do love the woodcut-inspired covers for these, and the dark emerald green background is gorgeous. There is a vague link to the actual plot of the book with the island with a fancy mansion on it in the corner, but these really are mainly just pretty to look at, without giving too much of anything away.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.