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 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!