Review: Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens by Andrea Penrose

Review: Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens by Andrea PenroseMurder at the Royal Botanic Gardens (Wrexford & Sloane, #5) by Andrea Penrose
Pages: 353
Published by Kensington on September 28, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

The upcoming marriage of the Earl of Wrexford and Lady Charlotte Sloane promises to be a highlight of the season, if they can first untangle--and survive--a web of intrigue and murder involving the most brilliant scientific minds in Regency London...

One advantage of being caught up in a whirl of dress fittings and decisions about flower arrangements and breakfast menus is that Charlotte Sloane has little time for any pre-wedding qualms. Her love for Wrexford isn't in question. But will being a wife--and a Countess--make it difficult for her to maintain her independence--not to mention, her secret identity as famed satirical artist A.J. Quill?
Despite those concerns, there are soon even more urgent matters to attend to during Charlotte and Wrexford's first public outing as an engaged couple. At a symposium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, a visiting botanist suffers a fatal collapse. The traces of white powder near his mouth reveal the dark truth--he was murdered. Drawn into the investigation, Charlotte and the Earl learn of the victim's involvement in a momentous medical discovery. With fame and immense fortune at stake, there's no shortage of suspects, including some whose ruthlessness is already known. But neither Charlotte nor her husband-to-be can realize how close the danger is about to get--or to what lengths this villain is prepared to go...

My Review:

This fifth book in the Wrexford & Sloane series represents a kind of an ending. Absolutely not the ending of the series, as there are two books in the series after this one, Murder at the Serpentine Bridge and this year’s Murder at the Merton Library. And I sincerely hope there will be more after that.

Nevertheless, Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens, besides being at least one specific someone’s personal ending – after all, this is a murder mystery – still represents a kind of closure to the first part or cycle of the Wrexford & Sloane series, as so many of the chickens who were barely eggs in the first book, Murder on Black Swan Lane, come home to roost in this one.

It begins, as always, with a murder. A murder that we see – as we often do in this series – enough to be certain that it is foul play and not merely a natural death without being able to identify the perpetrator.

Who does a dastardly clever job of hiding their identity through most of the story. Meaning that this is one of those mysteries where I’m happy to say that I was every bit as confused about who really done what as Wrexford, Sloane and ALL of their friends and colleagues turned out to be.

It’s only the motive that’s clear from the very beginning. As they say, the love of money is the root of all evil, and this is a case where entirely too many someones are willing to do some very dastardly deeds in order to cultivate much deeper roots of the stuff.

This case is one that both Wrexford and Sloane had hoped to pass to their friend and colleague, Head Bow Street Runner Griffin, as they’re doing their damndest not to incite any more scandals in the final weeks before their wedding.

But once one of the many villains stirring this nefarious pot – or plot – directly threatens not just Charlotte Sloane but also her ‘weasels’ – her adopted sons Raven and Hawk – there is absolutely no way that Charlotte will let go of this case until her own personal nemesis is finally brought to justice.

One way or another.

Escape Rating B+: It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that I went looking for a comfort read to round out this week, BUT, perhaps I was just a bit too quick to pick this up as it’s been less than a month since I read the last Murder at Queen’s Landing. There are REASONS I try to keep them spaced apart.

Also, Charlotte has a lot of angsty thoughts in this one. Angst that is very real, completely understandable, and doesn’t come to pass in any of the worst ways that she fears, but still, a lot of angst. As she’s our point-of-view character, it meant that the story bogged down a bit when she got lost inside her head.

Still, there ARE reasons for that angst, and they all have to do with this book circling back to all the demons raised in Murder on Black Swan Lane and resolving them – one way or another. Charlotte’s whole, entire existence is about to change with her upcoming marriage to Wrexford and he’s the only part of that situation she’s certain about. She’s going to lose a lot of freedom when she becomes his Countess, not because he’ll clip her wings, but because society will be watching her every move. A position that she ran away from when she eloped with her first, entirely unsuitable husband and isn’t at all keen to return to.

Still, where a young, unmarried woman can ruin her reputation and her prospects all too easily, a wealthy, married, Countess will merely be considered eccentric – at least as long as no one susses out her secret identity as the satirical cartoonist A.J. Quill.

Charlotte began this series as an impoverished widow with two unofficially adopted guttersnipes, an ability to blend into the shadows as another guttersnipe right alongside them, a house on the edge of dilapidation and a secret identity barely keeping the not-nearly-well-enough-patched roof over their heads. But she was free. No one noticed her, either as a poor widow or in her masquerade as Magpie the dirty orphan boy.

Everything we learned about Charlotte has changed since that first story. She was disowned by her family, but her hoped-for reconciliation with her brother is in the offing. She was exiled from society, but her marriage to Wrexford will put her right back in the thick of it.

And one of the villains in that first adventure threatened her boys, nearly got her murdered, was responsible for the death of her husband – and got away scot-free. Now that villain is back and threatening Charlotte’s life and happiness yet again.

Before Charlotte can be truly happy, all of those swords hanging over her head have to be carefully taken down, while she and Wrexford are in the midst of solving a criminal conspiracy that turns out to have more heads than Hydra. That the sheer tangle of threats coming their way makes both of them realize just how many hostages to fortune they have gathered around themselves over the course of their investigations adds to Charlotte’s worry and angst.

But also to the relief when it all, finally manages to come round right.

While I may not have fallen head over heels into this entry in the series quite as much as I have the others, I still very much enjoyed the mystery, the way it tangled its roots in both the science AND the social issues of its day, and put paid to the ‘will they, won’t they’ question once and for all.

Which means I’ll be back, maybe not the very next time I need a comfort read but certainly the one after that, with the next book in the series, Murder at the Serpentine Bridge.

Review: Murder at Queen’s Landing by Andrea Penrose

Review: Murder at Queen’s Landing by Andrea PenroseMurder at Queen's Landing (A Wrexford & Sloane Mystery, #4) by Andrea Penrose
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Wrexford & Sloane #4
Pages: 304
Published by Kensington on September 29, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

The murder of a shipping clerk . . . the strange disappearance of trusted friends . . . rumors of corruption within the powerful East India Company . . . all add up to a dark mystery entangling Lady Charlotte Sloane and the Earl of Wrexford in a dangerous web of secrets and lies that will call into question how much they really know about the people they hold dear—and about each other . . .

When Lady Cordelia, a brilliant mathematician, and her brother, Lord Woodbridge, disappear from London, rumors swirl concerning fraudulent bank loans and a secret consortium engaged in an illicit—and highly profitable—trading scheme that threatens the entire British economy. The incriminating evidence mounts, but for Charlotte and Wrexford, it’s a question of loyalty and friendship. And so they begin a new investigation to clear the siblings’ names, uncover their whereabouts, and unravel the truth behind the whispers.
As they delve into the murky world of banking and international arbitrage, Charlotte and Wrexford also struggle to navigate their increasingly complex feelings for each other. But the clock is ticking—a cunning mastermind has emerged . . . along with some unexpected allies—and Charlotte and Wrexford must race to prevent disasters both economic and personal as they are forced into a dangerous match of wits in an attempt to beat the enemy at his own game.

My Review:

Wrexford and Sloane are going to need the services of Professor Sudler’s mechanical Computing Engine (modeled after Charles Babbage and his Difference Engine) to calculate whodunnit and particularly why it was done in this fourth entry in the Wrexford & Sloane Regency historical mystery series.

It all begins with a murder that the police hope to put down to footpads, and an overheard conversation between friends who might – possibly, probably, unfortunately – have something to do with the dead body found on the docks at Queen’s Landing.

The dead man was a shipping clerk for the seemingly all-powerful East India Company, Bow Street, in the person of lead Runner Griffin, want Wrex to look into the mess, and Charlotte Sloane is all too rightly fearful that the conversation she overheard at her grand re-entry back into Society between her friend Lady Cordelia and Cordelia’s rather disheveled brother Woodbridge has something to do with the death.

Both Wrex and Charlotte really, truly, seriously had hoped that they were through with investigating murders, because the last one (Murder at Kensington Palace) got way too close to being one of theirs.

Charlotte now has too many hostages to fortune, too many people that she can’t bear to lose, that she rightly fears that her investigations could lead to one or more of their deaths. Surprising himself most of all, Wrex is the same, even if neither can admit that at the top of that list is their unacknowledged feelings for each other.

At the same time, they understand each other well enough to know that neither of them is going to stop rushing in where angels quite rightly fear to tread.

This case is one whose rotten heart certainly lies where no one would want to investigate, because the wealthy, powerful and highly connected East India Company is very much a law unto themselves. A law that the company has proven to be willing to enforce with deadly weaponry all around the world.

Home soil definitely not excepted.

But Wrex and Sloane follow where the case leads. In this case that leads from a much too trusting friend to a protective sister and an engineering genius in fear of all of their lives. Then is passes into the labyrinthine web of machinations and calculations at the heart of the East India Company.

It’s up to Wrexford and Sloane to find the snake at the center of this conspiracy and cut off its head before their friends become the latest in a long line of victims. Or before they do.

Escape Rating A: You wouldn’t think that it would be possible to make what is ultimately a financial crime be all that fascinating, but the machinations of arbitrage that turn out to be the center of this criminal conspiracy are both easy enough to follow and absolutely deadly in their application.

If the love of money is the root of all evil, then this evil is rooted in a group of high-ranking criminals who love money to the exclusion of all else and don’t care who stands in their way of getting it.

But, because the crime itself is a bit bloodless – even if the covering up of that crime is not – it takes Wrexford and Sloane and all of their friends more than a bit of painstaking clue hunting to reach the endgame in one only slightly bloodied piece.

Along the way, it’s very much a lesson in the heights and the sacrifices that the best of friends will undertake in order to help and support each other. Which is quite a bit of a departure from where both Wrex and Charlotte Sloane began this series in Murder at Black Swan Lake.

Which means that a big part of the appeal of this series so far has been the gathering of the ‘Scooby Gang’ around Wrex and Charlotte, a gathering that continues apace in this entry in the series.

A second factor in that appeal that also continues is the way that this series displays the dark and gritty underbelly of the glittering Regency period with a focus that is very different from its marvelous readalike series featuring Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin.

Devlin is all up in the politics of the period, while Wrex’ focus is on the scientific foment occurring at the same time. Sudler’s engine is just a bit earlier than Charles Babbage’s on which it is modeled, but not by much. And Babbage did accomplish the goal that Sudler sets for himself merely a decade later. The steam engine that Wrex’ friend Sheffield invests in was equally real.

And, as we all observe every day in our own time, advances in technology bring vast amounts of change to the human condition, not all of it good, not all of it bad, but all of it capable of changing the status quo well past the point of society’s ability to contain or even mitigate its effects.

All of which is reflected in the changes in Wrex’ and Sloane’s lives and in the crimes that they solve. This series is its own kind of historical mystery magic, and this entry in the series is absolutely no exception!

Two final notes before I leave you to pick up the Wrexford & Sloane series for yourself. First, there was a bit in the middle where I thought I’d read this book before because something was a bit too familiar. That was the result of a combination of resemblances. The tea/silver/opium triangle at the heart of the financial shenanigans was not only real history, but it was also part of the skullduggery in R.F. Kuang’s recent Babel. Combine that with the surreptitious search of Professor Sudler’s country retreat, whose setup and result resembles a similar scene in Candace Camp’s A Rogue at Stonecliffe, and I had a minute there where I thought I’d forgotten an entire book. If your reading tastes are similar to mine, I hope I’ve saved you that same minute of consternation.

But speaking of bookish resemblances, Murder at Queen’s Landing ends on a proposal signifying great changes to come, very much like the endings of Laurie R. King’s A Monstrous Regiment of Women and Dorothy L. Sayers’ classic Gaudy Night.

Which means that I’ll be picking up the next entry in this series, Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens, to learn exactly what those great changes will be, the next time I’m in search of a comfortingly murderous read!

Review: Murder at Kensington Palace by Andrea Penrose

Review: Murder at Kensington Palace by Andrea PenroseMurder at Kensington Palace (Wrexford & Sloane, #3) by Andrea Penrose
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Wrexford & Sloane #3
Pages: 359
Published by Kensington Books on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

Wrexford and Sloane must unravel secrets within secrets—including a few that entangle their own hearts—when they reunite to solve a string of shocking murders that have horrified Regency London...
Though Charlotte Sloane’s secret identity as the controversial satirical cartoonist A.J. Quill is safe with the Earl of Wrexford, she’s ill prepared for the rippling effects sharing the truth about her background has cast over their relationship. She thought a bit of space might improve the situation. But when her cousin is murdered and his twin brother is accused of the gruesome crime, Charlotte immediately turns to Wrexford for help in proving the young man’s innocence. Though she finds the brooding scientist just as enigmatic and intense as ever, their partnership is now marked by an unfamiliar tension that seems to complicate every encounter.
Despite this newfound complexity, Wrexford and Charlotte are determined to track down the real killer. Their investigation leads them on a dangerous chase through Mayfair’s glittering ballrooms and opulent drawing rooms, where gossip and rumors swirl to confuse the facts. Was her cousin murdered over a romantic rivalry . . . or staggering gambling debts? Or could the motive be far darker and involve the clandestine scientific society that claimed both brothers as members? The more Charlotte and Wrexford try to unknot the truth, the more tangled it becomes. But they must solve the case soon, before the killer’s madness seizes another victim...

My Review:

The murder that drags Wrexford and Sloane back into the fray after the events of Murder at Half Moon Gate again hits a bit too close to home – at least for Charlotte Sloane. In fact, it’s so close to home – her past home if not her present one – that when Wrex informs her that the recently elevated Lord Chittenden is dead, she performs the only quintessential female act he’s ever seen her do.

She faints. She literally swoons at his feet. And he doesn’t know what to do about it. But then, not knowing what to do about or with Charlotte Sloane, AKA the brilliant satirical artist A.J. Quill, has been a constant state of affairs for Wrex since the moment they met in Murder on Black Swan Lane.

Charlotte has just learned that her dear cousin, one of the few people who accepted her as she was back in a day she hasn’t yet revealed to Wrex, has been accused of murdering her other dear cousin – his twin brother. Charlotte is certain that this accusation is as false as the one that brought Wrexford to her door in the first book in this series.

But there’s no evidence for Nick Locke’s innocence, while the evidence for his guilt is both gruesome and damning. Not even a visit to Nick in Newgate dims Charlotte’s belief that he can’t possibly be guilty – even if does cast a dark pall over her determination to win him free.

Which is when Charlotte realizes that the cost of Nicky’s freedom – if it can be won at all – will be the sacrifice of her own. In order to investigate the possible suspects, a surprising number of whom are women in the upper reaches of the ton, Charlotte will have to finally admit the truth of her own origins, and walk with eyes wide open back into the gilded cage she escaped from in what seems like another lifetime.

Only because it was. A life that she didn’t fit into then, and must return to now. After all, needs must when the devil drives – and there is absolutely a devil driving the rush to Nicky’s judgment. And Charlotte’s own.

Escape Rating A-: I got into the Wrexford & Sloane series because it is an amazing readalike for the Sebastian St. Cyr series without being the same at all – which I know sounds contradictory but bear with me.

Both are historical mystery series, and both take place in England during the Regency. Both feature amateur detectives who are aristocrats, working with female partners with whom they have tension-filled relationships.

But, but, but there are huge differences. The St. Cyr series is exactly what it says on the label. The story is told primarily from the perspective of Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, the man who will in the fullness of time become the Earl of Hendon. In the meanwhile, Devlin expiates his demons, many but not all of which he acquired while serving in France during the Napoleonic Wars, by solving murders – generally the kind of murders that no one in the halls of power want solved..

Although Wrexford gets top billing in ‘his’ series, it’s not his journey. Instead, this story is told from the perspective of Mrs. Charlotte Sloane, a widow living in genteel poverty who makes ends at least wave at each other by penning satirical drawings and publishing them under the nom-de-plume A.J. Quill. It’s clear that she grew up in different circumstances, but when the story begins neither Wrexford nor the reader know exactly what those circumstances were or why she left them.

If the St. Cyr series had been written from the perspective of Devlin’s wife, the social reformer Hero Jarvis, it might read something like Wrexford & Sloane, but it isn’t and she doesn’t and as a consequence the two series are looking at the same period through much different lenses.

If you like one you’ll like the other just as much – I certainly do – but they are cousins rather than twins or even siblings. To mix metaphors entirely and get back to Sloane and her cousins at the same time.

The other thing that makes the two series different, and has been a huge factor in the Wrexford & Sloane series so far, is that Wrexford, unlike Devlin, is a man of science rather than politics, and this case, like the previous two books, is steeped in that world that seemed to be changing and discovering every day.

And yet asks the same questions that are still being asked today. Questions about possibility vs. morality, whether the ends justify the means, how far, how dark and how deep an experiment should be allowed to go, and whether just because something CAN be done doesn’t mean it SHOULD be done.

Because this case was steeped in those scientific questions, as well as the age-old question about the fine lines between genius and madness, and between interest and obsession. All the red herrings in this one, and there were many, had been electrocuted or charred to a crisp before presentation, making the solution seem just that much farther out of reach.

But what held my interest, and will hold most readers by the heartstrings, is Charlotte Sloane’s journey, and her decision to give up the thing she prizes most in order to save a person she holds dear. And that’s a dilemma that is every bit as potent two centuries ago as it is today.

Obviously, I’m still enjoying my read of the Wrexford & Sloane series very much, although I will probably take a bit of a break before I get back to it to keep the whole thing at the correct level of compulsion and freshness. But I know I’ll be picking up Murder at Queen’s Landing the next time the mood for a compelling historical mystery strikes!

Review: Murder at Half Moon Gate by Andrea Penrose

Review: Murder at Half Moon Gate by Andrea PenroseMurder at Half Moon Gate (A Wrexford & Sloane Mystery) by Andrea Penrose
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Wrexford & Sloane #2
Pages: 360
Published by Kensington on March 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter 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 . . .

My Review:

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.

As well as for the next book in the Wrexford & Sloane series, Murder at Kensington Palace, the next time I’m looking for a comfort read that introduces itself with a corpse.

Review: Murder on Black Swan Lane by Andrea Penrose

Review: Murder on Black Swan Lane by Andrea PenroseMurder on Black Swan Lane (Wrexford & Sloane, #1) by Andrea Penrose
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Wrexford & Sloane #1
Pages: 340
Published by Kensington Books on June 27, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

In Regency London, an unconventional scientist and a fearless female artist form an unlikely alliance to expose unspeakable evil . . .
The Earl of Wrexford possesses a brilliant scientific mind, but boredom and pride lead him to reckless behavior. He does not suffer fools gladly. So when pompous, pious Reverend Josiah Holworthy publicly condemns him for debauchery, Wrexford unsheathes his rapier-sharp wit and strikes back. As their war of words escalates, London’s most popular satirical cartoonist, A.J. Quill, skewers them both. But then the clergyman is found slain in a church—his face burned by chemicals, his throat slashed ear to ear—and Wrexford finds himself the chief suspect.

My Review:

This terrific historical mystery, wrapped in not one but two enigmas, begins in the best amateur-ish detective fashion by putting one of our soon to be investigators in the frame for murder. A frame he will need to investigate his way out of – even as he navigates and occasionally blunders his way into an uneasy partnership with the very last person he ever expected to be on his side.

Admittedly, the Earl of Wrexford wouldn’t have said he exactly “had” a side, at least not until he’s framed for the murder of the Reverend Josiah Holworthy. And not that he didn’t want Holworthy to suffer some kind of comeuppance for being just the sort of self-righteous fool that Wrexford never suffers gladly and preferably not at all.

But murder was going just a bit far – or at least considerably farther than Wrexford planned to go. Which doesn’t stop the frame from tightening towards a noose once Bow Street has him in their sights. Sights which have been focused even closer on the Earl thanks to the pointed, satirical cartoons of A.J. Quill, which have already painted Wrexford as the “Devil Incarnate”.

What makes this historical puzzler so delightfully puzzling is that not a single one of the characters, not the villain, not the investigators, not even the secondary and tertiary characters, are exactly who or what they appear to be.

While the stakes, which begin relatively small and seem confined to whether or not Wrexford’s neck will be stretched – or severed – not only expand but send out tentacles that reach from “mere” murder to the highest stakes and consequences of all.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up for a couple of reasons. One, I seem to be in a bit of a murder-y mood this week, with three historical mysteries to start out my week. Sometimes I just get in the mood to see justice done. Two, I was looking for something to scratch a comfort reading itch while finding something new at the same time. Both the covers and the setting for the Wrexford & Sloane series remind me a LOT of the Sebastian St. Cyr series, and I discovered that I already possessed several books in the series.

The resemblance between the Earl of Wrexford and Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin is there but isn’t as close as that cover led me to believe. Which doesn’t mean my hopes were at all dashed in the long run as Wrexford and Devlin were contemporaries who would have moved in the same circles at the same time if both had existed.

But there’s a fundamental difference in the two characters, as Devlin is exactly who he presents himself to be (at least as far as he knows when his series begins), while Wrexford’s inner person is rather different from the indolent lordling he shows the world.

So far, at least, Wrexford & Sloane do not find their affairs as intimately intertwined with the great events of their day in the same way that Devlin does. Wrexford is a member of the aristocracy, but he does not move in the halls of power – even if the resolution of the mystery before him does lead to empire-rattling consequences.

Although the events of this story initially center around Wrexford, it is the advent of Sloane that changes the game and gives the reluctant, budding partnership both its fascination and its appeal.

Because Wrexford has fashioned himself as a cold and calculating man of the new science of his day. While Sloane, hiding her poverty-stricken, widowed self behind a masculine pen name, is a creature of sharp wit, sharper tongue and indomitable will who believes it only safe for her to let her passions out through the medium of her talented ‘quill’. A woman who joins forces with Wrexford, but only in equal partnership and only on her own terms. Because she has already learned to her cost that no one can be trusted to save her or protect her – or her hostages to fortune – beyond her own redoubtable self.

The Sherlockian overtones of Wrexford’s unemotional demeanor contrasted with Sloane’s carefully banked emotions as well as their opposition in gender and station gives this case much of its dramatic tension as well as providing plenty of opportunity for the characters to spark off each other so hard they very nearly set the scene afire. Not that there aren’t plenty of fires and even explosions of a slightly more mundane origin to deal with! They are clearly people who can’t be neutral about each other, even when they are on the same side. Where those sparks will lead them will undoubtedly be explored in the books to come, along with whatever else Sloane is hiding from both Wrexford and from herself.

Plumbing the depths of Charlotte Sloane’s many, many secrets should make the subsequent books in this series every bit as riveting as this first outing. Clearly, the Wrexford & Sloane series is now on my list of comfort reads to be picked up when next the mood strikes me. I’m certain that their investigation of Murder at Half Moon Gate will pop to the top of the towering TBR pile in short order!