Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Wrexford & Sloane #2
Published by Kensington on March 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
A wealthy lord who happens to be a brilliant scientist . . . an enigmatic young widow who secretly pens satirical cartoons . . . a violent killing disguised as a robbery . . . Nothing is as it seems in Regency London, especially when the Earl of Wrexford and Charlotte Sloane join forces to solve a shocking murder.
When Lord Wrexford discovers the body of a gifted inventor in a dark London alley, he promptly alerts the watchman and lets the authorities handle the matter. But Wrexford soon finds himself drawn into the murder investigation when the inventor's widow begs for his assistance, claiming the crime was not a random robbery. It seems her husband's designs for a revolutionary steam-powered engine went missing the night of his death. The plans could be worth a fortune . . . and very dangerous in the wrong hands.
Joining Wrexford in his investigation is Charlotte Sloane, who uses the pseudonym A. J. Quill to publish her scathing political cartoons. Her extensive network of informants is critical for her work, but she doesn't mind tapping that same web of spies to track down an elusive killer. Each suspect--from ambitious assistants to rich investors, and even the inventor's widow--is entwined in a maze of secrets and lies that leads Wrexford and Sloane down London's most perilous stews and darkest alleyways.
With danger lurking at every turn, the potent combination of Wrexford's analytical mind and Sloane's exacting intuition begins to unravel the twisted motivations behind the inventor's death. But they are up against a cunning and deadly foe--a killer ready to strike again before they can recover the inventor's priceless designs . . .
Everyone has secrets. Everybody lies. Everybody dies. When the Earl of Wrexford practically trips over direct evidence of the latter on his way home from drinking at his club, he’s not all that interested in poking his nose into either of the former, at least not as long as it looks like the man’s death was the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and not having enough money on his person to convince the footpads to leave him alone – or at least alive.
It’s only in the cold and entirely too bright light of the next morning, coping badly with his hangover from the drinking of the night before, that Wrex learned that he knew the man whose corpse he discovered, and that his recollections of the crime scene don’t jibe AT ALL with the official determination of a robbery gone wrong.
Or at least not the usual kind of robbery. Someone slit the seams of the dead man’s clothing to hunt for something secreted in the lining. Something like papers.
Considering that the late Elihu Ashton was a genius engineer who had purportedly invented a way of making a more powerful steam engine, and that the patents for that revolutionary invention had not yet been filed, there are plenty of motives for his murder.
In Regency England, steam is the power that is driving the burgeoning industrial revolution. There’s money to be made in anything that increases the power and efficiency of steam engines.
But the money that will be made will line the pockets of the investors. The rich will get richer. And the workers who will lose their jobs and their livelihoods as the inevitable result of all that efficiency have no hope and no choices.
Unless they turn ‘Radical’ and break the machines that are taking away their work and their dignity. Or unless someone is using them to divert suspicion from yet another rich man’s grab for more money and more power.
Wrex may not want to be involved in another murder, and he swears that he’s a man of science who doesn’t even have a heart other than as an efficient pump for his circulatory system. But Charlotte Sloane seems to have infected him with her inability to let an injustice stand – even if her own secrets get exposed along the way.
Along with his.
Escape Rating A-: I picked this up, so soon after finishing Murder at Black Swan Lane, because I was still searching for comfort reads after last week and kind of wanted to stay in Sebastian St. Cyr’s world after Friday’s review of Why Kings Confess. But reading books in a series too close together doesn’t work as well for me as I always hope it will, so I turned to Wrexford & Sloane, which is very much the same world, just seen through a different set of characters who therefore have a different perspective on the same point in time.
Although St. Cyr and Wrexford are both aristocrats in Regency England, and quite literally occupy the same social strata (Wrexford has already inherited his Earldom while St. Cyr hasn’t yet) Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, investigates murders that touch on the powers that be – sometimes all the way up to the Prince Regent himself – or at least his household.
Wrexford is a man of science, a member of the Royal Academy, and his circle of friends and influence is vastly different. Where St. Cyr is often focused on the Napoleonic Wars and the destruction they have left in their wake, Wrexford is more focused on the advances of the scientific community and the social unrest that seems to follow the change and upheaval of society that is its result.
And if Wrexford isn’t sufficiently focused on that change and upheaval, his friend, the artist and satirist A.J. Quill is more than happy to point him in the right direction.
At the heart of this story, both the mystery and the situation that surrounds it, is change. The change in working conditions that has sparked the radical political movement, the Luddites that violently oppose change, and the further widening gap between the titans of the new industry and the human beings who are its true engine. And the changes of life and circumstance that have caught up Charlotte Sloane, AKA A.J. Quill, even as she and Wrex get themselves caught up in another murder investigation.
Charlotte Sloane is determined that Bow Street doesn’t take the easy way out, blaming the radical workers for a series of murders that have more to do with money than politics. Wrex is caught between preventing a miscarriage of justice and preventing Charlotte and her young charges from becoming victims of yet another villain’s machinations.
While each wonders whether the other has a heart after all, and whether they can find their way to each other in spite of the barriers between them. But first they have to survive the bloody mess they’ve landed themselves in this time. With the able assistance of their friends, and colleagues, and especially the Weasels.
The first and most obvious readalike for Wrexford & Sloane is still, by far and away, Sebastian St. Cyr. If you like one you’ll like the other and vice versa. But now that I’m two books in with Wrexford & Sloane, the elements that set the two apart have become more apparent, and that’s most definitely an excellent thing.
At the same time, this series has also brought other historical mysteries to mind, especially Lady Sherlock and Mary Russell. Charlotte Sloane’s situation has turned out to be much like Charlotte Holmes’ in the Lady Sherlock series, although I believe that Sloane’s solution is likely to be a bit more traditional than that particular Holmes. And for any reader who loved the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, the ending of Murder at Half Moon Gate has more than a passing resemblance to the conclusion of A Monstrous Regiment of Women and I am most definitely here for it.