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by Deanna Raybourn
Berkley , January 2018
320 pages
ISBN: 0451476174

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One would think the Mummy's Curse a tired trope, especially when situated in the 1880s and read in twenty-first century post-Orientalism. Surprisingly, in the deft hands of Deanna Raybourn, it isn't. Her novel A TREACHEROUS CURSE, the latest installment in her Veronica Speedwell series of late-Victorian mysteries, delivers plenty of adventure, suspense, and domestic drama. It also involves a mummy with a curse, but locates the villainy not in ancient Egypt, but in 1888 Marylebone.

Miss Veronica Speedwell, amateur scientist and secret love-child of Bertie, Prince of Wales, is a compelling narrator if not a particularly likeable person. Pedantic in her curation of the poshly-named 'Belvedere Museum', Speedwell is a 'New Woman' type who demonstrates her liberation from Victorian female norms by talking about sex as if it is a new variant of Pilates. (This would be more genuinely provocative were she to also divulge her fin-de-siècle birth control secrets, but apparently, the imaginary Victorian reading audience doesn't want to know.)

Speedwell is unrequitedly attracted to her partner in curation and crime-solving, Stoker. Not Bram Stoker, creator of DRACULA, but Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, Esq., explorer of the Amazon and excavator of ancient Egypt. At the start of the story, Stoker is in trouble because his ex-wife Caroline's husband, photographer John de Morgan, has disappeared on an Egyptian expedition, apparently with a priceless diadem exhumed with an Eighteenth Dynasty princess. Stoker is the prime suspect on account of his own ancient history: his violent reaction upon his discovery of his then-wife's affair with de Morgan.

Speedwell knows that Stoker has an airtight alibi: he was with her. But Bertie wouldn't like for the public to know that.

Did de Morgan steal the diadem? Was he then murdered? And, as Stoker didn't commit the murder, who did?

Raybourn provides a wide field of colorfully-depicted suspects. There is Sir Leicester Tiverton, an aristocratic Egyptologist reminiscent of the historical Lord Carnarvon. Tiverton's first wife, Lady Lucie Tiverton, was another supposed victim of the alleged curse, and her daughter, Iphigenia 'Figgy' Tiverton, is bored, overprotected, and upset at her father's second marriage. ('Mouth like a sour apple, that girl'.) Sir Leicester has a former friend and current professional rival in the ebullient, gun-slinging American antiquarian Horace 'Horus' Stihl. Less intimidating is Stihl's adult son Henry, obsessed with sewage systems, ancient and modern. ('No drains, Henry', Horus barks at him in deference to Speedwell's sex.)

All these people—perhaps the pseudo-Anubis excepted—fear the Egyptians of the past, when it's really the Londoners of the present that they need to worry about. Raybourn exploits the potential of this theme expertly, leading the reader through genuine cliffhangers to a creative and unpredictable resolution. This reviewer wishes Speedwell and Stoker many more adventures.

§ Rebecca Nesvet is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. She specializes in nineteenth-century literature. https://uwgb.academia.edu/RebeccaNesvet

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, January 2018

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