Friday, January 20, 2023

An Impossible Impostor (Veronica Speedwell #7), by Deanna Raybourn (author), Angèle Masters (narrator)

Penguin Random House Audio, ISBN 9780593554166, February 2022

Veronica Speedwell, lepidopterist, and her lover, natural historian Stoker (Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, who avoids that name as much as possible), get a personal request from the head of Special Branch, Sir Hugo Montgomerie. The eldest son and heir of the Hathaway family was lost six years ago in the eruption of Krakatoa. With his death, the younger son, Charles, became the heir, and not long after, their father died. This left the only daughter, Sir Hugo's goddaughter, Euphemia, unhappily under the authority of Charles and his wife, Mary. 

But now a stranger has appeared at Hathaway Hall, injured and ill, claiming no memory, but carrying documents identifying him as the missing and presumed dead Jonathan Hathaway. He fits the description, and no one has seen him in six years, during which he has, if he is Jonathan, been through a major disaster and traumatic experiences. Is he Jonathan Hathaway, or is he an imposter?

Sir Hugo knows that Veronica knew Jonathan Hathaway and had traveled with him. She's a logical person to weigh in on whether the new arrival is really Jonathan Hathaway, or an imposter, because she's the person available who last saw him most recently, at the time of the Krakatoa eruption. And Jonathan, Charles, and Euphemia's grandfather, Sir Jeffrey Hathaway, had built a large collection taxidermied rare and exotic animals--and one of them is a thylacine. It's now extinct, but at the time of this story they were merely almost extinct, and greatly prized by those interested in rare animals. Because Veronica and Stoker are employed by the Earl of Rosemorran to catalog the animals for the natural history museum he intends to create, they can visit under the cover of evaluating for Rosemorran the Hathaway collection that Charles and his wife, Mary, regard as trash and want to get rid of, as part of their "modernization" of the Hall.

So off they go to Hathaway Hall, in the boggy moors.

They find a collection that hasn't been cared for in years, and a house being renovated with no regard for the value of the older decorations. The youngest sibling, Euphemia, a favorite of their grandfather, who has a passion for astronomy and who has been using the astronomical equipment he left with great skill, and who wants to study astronomy, has been reduced to Mary's unpaid servant. She will not be allowed to study astronomy, because it would be unladylike. Charles and Mary's three young children are running while and certainly not learning the virtues of kindness and consideration.

And they meet both Lady Hathaway, widow of Sir Jeffrey, her Indian servant Anjali, who is Euphemia's only friend in this household, and Jonathan Hathaway, or the man being called Jonathan Hathaway.

Veronica does recognize him. For complicated personal reasons, she doesn't want to say so, and identify him.

Lady Hathaway is convinced he's her long-lost grandson, and dotes on him. When she takes out one the most valuable of the Hathaway jewels, a diamond acquired under unclear circumstances during Sir Jeffrey's long service in India, and promises it to her "grandson," trouble truly begins to erupt.

A strange apparition, a cloaked figure accompanied by a blue-white light, tries to break into the summer house. Veronica sees it and pursues it till it goes out onto the moor, where Veronica has the sense not to continue in the dark.

The diamond Lady Hathaway promised "Jonathan Hathaway" is stolen, and "Jonathan Hathaway" disappears. There's a major clash between Euphemia and Charles over the astronomical equipment being sold off. Stoker becomes aware that there's something very odd between Veronica and "Jonathan Hathaway," and Veronica is keeping something important from him. It's the start of a real and potentially permanent rupture between them.

With the theft of the diamond, and the clash in the family, Stoker and Veronica head back to London.

It's in London that they discover that it probably wasn't "Jonathan Hathaway" who stole the diamond, because someone is coming after them in the belief that they have it.

There's a break-in at the Belvidere, that will house the museum if it ever opens, more questions about who "Jonathan Hathaway" is and a real rupture between Veronica and Stoker. And then the real villains catch up with them, and it's not just their personal conflict they have to deal with.

Despite much of it taking place in a country house, this is a rough and dangerous adventure for Veronica and Stoker. This one, along with the rest of the series, is realistic about what women could and couldn't do in late Victorian England, which is in different ways both more and less than people often assume. We continue to see the continuing characters develop, and the secondary characters are also good.

It's a lot of fun.

(Personal rant. The thylacine is, or rather was, Australia's largest carnivorous marsupial. It's commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger, which is a stupid name for it, or as the Tasmanian wolf, which is a little better. Being marsupials, they were not either canids or felids, but they at least looked like large dogs in general body shape. The "tiger" appellation comes from the stripes on their hindquarters, which I've always thought was kind of pathetic. We don't call zebras "African tigers," or "tiger horses," and they're at least placental mammals with stripes all over. Yes, I'm being cantankerous.)

I bought this audiobook.

No comments:

Post a Comment