A Grave Robbery (A Veronica Speedwell Mystery)

Written by Deanna Raybourn
Review by Lee Lanzillotta

In the ninth Veronica Speedwell Mystery, set in 1889 London, our crime-solving scientists, Veronica and Stoker, come across a most curious artifact that turns out to be more than it seems at first glance. The “anatomical Venus,” or anatomically-accurate wax model, that their benefactor’s exuberant daughter has recently acquired in the hope of making her own version of Madame Tussaud’s “sleeping beauty” turns out to be, well, not wax after all but a human woman preserved through means which impress even the experienced taxidermist Stoker. This unsettling discovery kicks off a quest to discover the identity and story of this poor girl. Given the eerily preserved state of her body, murder seems to be on the table. Eventually, with the help of their old friends from the traveling circus, Metropolitan police officer Mornaday, and gutsy journalist J. J., Veronica and Stoker get to the bottom of this weird enigma. The tale culminates in a gripping and suitably, ahem, explosive climax.

At times the marvelously macabre story almost dips into the realm of science fiction, however subtly. The more speculative elements are the kind of details you’d expect to find in an old gothic novel or Arthur Conan Doyle yarn. The style also evokes these works without being overly garrulous. Rich with references to the historical events of the period, which provides a strong and vibrant sense of the steampunk-esque setting, the book’s prose is electric and engaging.

The relationship between our adventurous leads is passionate and plausible, yet undeniably romantic. I particularly enjoyed their flirty, adorable banter. Slightly squeamish readers will be happy to hear that the sauciest stuff all happens offscreen, winked at wittily but never portrayed in graphic detail.