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A Victorian Butterfly Effect

The Big Thrill Interviews Bestselling Author Deanna Raybourn

By Kia Dennis

Book Cover: A Grave RobberyDeanna Raybourn brings back intrepid investigator Veronica Speedwell and her beau, Stoker, for the ninth book in the Veronica Speedwell series. This time, Veronica and Stoker must figure out how the perfectly preserved body of a young woman ended up in a wax museum. When it is confirmed the young woman was murdered, Veronica and Stoker are determined to bring her killer to justice. Just as determined, it seems, as the killer is to keep his macabre secrets.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist Deanna Raybourn is a 6th-generation Texan. Her novels have been nominated for the Edgar, the Macavity, and the Agatha awards, and her contemporary thriller, Killers of a Certain Age, won the 2022 Barry Award for Best Thriller.

I understand you based your main character, Veronica, on a real-life Victorian explorer who chronicled her adventures while hunting butterflies. How did you discover her diary, and did you know right away that it would be a good basis for a novel?

Deanna Raybourn

I ran across the diary in my local public library when I lived in San Antonio. (I LOVE libraries for this very reason—you never know what you’ll find in the stacks.) It had a ridiculously garish cover, and the title was too sentimental for words, but the book itself was fascinating. The lepidopterist was named Margaret Fountaine, and she wrote with amazing candor about her travels, her experiences, and her love affairs! Seeing how she lived her life on her own terms was such an eye-opener because we tend to think of Victorian women as sitting neatly in the parlor, pouring out tea for the vicar, and tatting lace. But so many of them were traveling the world, having these tremendous adventures and writing home about them. I knew if I ever had the chance to create a Victorian series again, I’d want a main character with that sense of purpose and that refusal to settle for someone else’s notion of how she should live her life.

The idea of a lepidopterist (someone with an extensive knowledge of butterflies) as your protagonist is so unique. Did you have to do a lot of research to write about a lepidopterist accurately? What is something interesting that you’ve learned about lepidoptery?

The lepidoptery was a nod to Margaret Fountaine. I wanted that as an homage to her, as well as a means of giving my character, Veronica Speedwell, the chance to travel the world. I’ve done a fair bit of research to get acquainted with butterflies—Veronica is scornful of moths for the most part—but I’m always aware of the fact that I can only write about what Veronica would have known as a natural scientist in the late 19th-century. I am forever checking butterfly species to see when they were cataloged and named! I did raise a set of painted ladies from the larval stage, and I can tell you from painful experience that butterflies do not smell nearly as lovely as you would imagine. But they are endlessly fascinating, so I’m glad I gave Veronica an occupation I find interesting.

Deanna Raybourn posing at a signing with her newest reader

Posing at a signing with my newest reader.

Can you tell us a bit about A GRAVE ROBBERY? What was your favorite part of writing this installment of Veronica and Stoker’s story?

I absolutely loved the fact that I was able to draw on things that had fascinated me for decades. Like all writers, I’m a mental magpie, hoarding bits and pieces—strange facts, experiences, trivia—and this book was the chance for me to pluck out some of my favorite snippets and figure out how to make them play well together. I think the earliest one of the inspirations for this book goes all the way back to when I was five and first saw Bride of Frankenstein on TV.

My least favorite part of writing it was when I turned it in and promptly emailed my editor the next morning to politely ask for it back on the grounds that I had the murderer wrong and needed to rewrite the last half. I’m still heaving with gratitude that her response was to be absolutely unruffled and send it back with good grace. It definitely has the right murderer now.

What is the most difficult part of writing a long-running series?

Deanna Raybourn Accepting the Barry for Best Thriller

Accepting the Barry for Best Thriller.

I love every aspect of it, but the trickiest bit is finding something to break it up, a project that will take you completely out of that world for a little while. I think that’s essential for staying fresh. When I wrote Killers of a Certain Age, that was my first attempt at a contemporary, and when I came back to Veronica’s world, it was comfortable but seemed new. And I’d grown as a writer. It was easier for me to see when something wasn’t working and know exactly how to fix it.

I loved the repartee between Veronica and beau Stoker. How difficult is it to find and write lighter moments within serious mystery plots?

That’s my favorite bit! Murder is such an unthinkable, villainous act that I can only really contemplate it if it’s leavened with something—humor, coziness, romance. It needs a counterbalance to remind us that not everyone is evil and that awful things happen, but life carries on. So, I will write truly awful things but give it a twist. The diabolical has to be met with the ridiculous, I think. On a practical level, Veronica and Stoker are scientists, logically minded and with a tendency to over-intellectualize. I keep the victims at a remove from them so the crimes are more a puzzle than a source of grief. We may see flashes of anger or outrage—usually from Stoker—but seldom do we see actual mournfulness.

What are your favorite genres to read? Care to share your favorites?

I do love a good cozy mystery—especially from the Golden Age, any Jane Austen novel, memoirs, and armchair travel. When I’m feeling brave, I’ll read some domestic thrillers. Thanks to the Apple TV+ adaptation, I’m gradually working my way through Mick Herron’s Slow Horses series, and I will knock people down to get to the latest Claudia Gray novel.

Deanna Raybourn on research trip to Venice for KILLS WELL WITH OTHERS

On a research trip to Venice for KILLS WELL WITH OTHERS

Aside from Veronica, which of your characters do you feel has grown the most and how?

Stoker is definitely experiencing a full arc. In the first book, he is incredibly grumpy, closed off from almost everyone he’s ever known. He’s a bit like Androcles’ lion, grumbling and rumbling at anyone who comes near. But Veronica isn’t afraid of his bite, and she manages to build bridges for him without even trying. She is simply a person who is wildly curious about the world and everyone in it. She forms relationships, and somehow, Stoker is always dragged along for the ride. He’s also recovering from an intensely painful episode in his personal life, and Veronica’s joie de vivre is just what he needs to move on, so she’s been useful in that regard, too.

What can your readers look forward to next?

I’m delighted that I can (finally!) announce that there is a sequel coming to my contemporary thriller, Killers of a Certain Age. Kills Well With Others will publish in spring of 2025, and after that it will be time for the 10th Veronica Speedwell mystery.


The Big Thrill Interviews Bestselling Author Deanna Raybourn

Kia Dennis
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