Berkley: New York
The scene is London, 1888. Victorian naturalist and adventuress Veronica Speedwell and her mysterious colleague Stoker (full name, Revelstoke Templeton-Vane) are busily curating the eclectic collection of art, artifacts, jewels, books, and natural history specimens amassed by their friend, the Earl of Rosemorran’s Marylebone estate Belvedere Museum. Veronica has also been keeping abreast of the newspaper accounts of the Tiverton Expedition to Egypt, a cause celebre among all of London’s social classes.
Sir Leicester Tiverton, it was reported, had unearthed a burial cache dating from the 18th Dynasty (1550 BC-1292 BC) of the New Kingdom period. The burial was incomplete, with only a limited selection of grave goods but including the sarcophagus of a princess identified as Ankheset and her presumed jeweled crown or diadem. The popular, that is to say sensationalist, press took up the story with great glee as a series of mishaps forced an early return of the expedition and rumors of a curse circulated. The excavation director died while on site, the expedition photographer, John de Morgan and his wife Caroline mysteriously disappeared from the site along with the bejeweled diadem, and most alluring of all, the dig was said to have been visited by the specter of Anubis, the Egyptian jackal-headed god of the underworld!
Veronica and Stoker are thrust into the midst of the “Tiverton affair” when they are summoned to the bedside of their sometime ally in detection, the very ill Sir Hugo Montomerie, head of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch. In addition to crime detection, the Special Branch is charged with “protecting” the interests of England’s nobility, and Stoker, much to his own personal disdain, is included in that broad category. The disappearance of the Tiverton photographer, John de Morgan and his wife, along with the diadem, has caught the attention of Sir Hugo for the fact that Stoker had, within the past year, nearly beaten de Morgan death on the streets of London, ostensibly because the latter had run off with Stoker’s wife, Caroline—now de Morgan’s wife—after a disastrous Amazon expedition in which Stoker and de Morgan had initially been partners. Based upon their earlier adventures in detection, Sir Hugo wishes Veronica and Stoker to track down the missing de Morgan and preserve Stoker’s reputation and that of his noble family.
What follows is an entertaining romp through Victorian London, as the two sleuths discover plots within plots, archaeological chicanery, family secrets and the haunting presence of Anubis as Sir Leicester Tiverton insists that his discoveries must be exhibited to the gawping London public—an event that is sure to antagonize any self-respecting Egyptian god of the underworld.
A Treacherous Curse is a well-conceived whodunit, told with wit and energy. Veronica is an audacious heroine—certainly out of step with her female contemporaries—and Stoker is a glowering, menacing hero in the very best Victorian literary tradition. Veronica may remind some readers of Elizabeth Peters’ wonderful heroine Amelia Peabody, but Veronica has a decided edge to her and a darker core than the ebullient Amelia. Nonetheless Veronica Speedwell is a heroine to be reckoned with and future adventures could be quite interesting.
Three trowels for A Treacherous Curse.