Published by Kensington on September 28, 2021
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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...
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.