reviewed by Gail Byrd
Charlotte and The Earl of Wrexford are getting married; so, no, thank you, they won’t be solving the latest murder to happen, this one at the Royal Botanical Gardens. Of course that changes the minute they learn that Hawk, one of Charlotte’s wards, was in the garden at the time and barely missed seeing the murderer. And so begins the fifth in the Wrexler and Sloane Regency Period mystery series.
Charlotte and the Earl are trying to balance multiple issues. There’s planning for the wedding, which is no small task; then there’s introducing Charlotte to High Society since she will become a member as Countess once she marries the Earl. Add that to Charlotte’s already clandestine activities of satirical cartoon creator, A. J. Quill, her occasional masquerading as a street urchin to solve crimes, the truth behind the backgrounds of her wards Raven and Hawk, and the reappearance of the man who supported a risky experiment which almost killed Charlotte and resulted in the death of his niece, and you have many of the threads that make up this latest novel.
As Charlotte and the Earl get drawn into the mystery, it gets more complicated. It seems no one and nothing is quite what it seems, and every time they think they have a solution, something happens to turn the problem on its ear. Is the American Naval officer really as evil as he appears? Is Charlotte’s old friend from her days spent in Rome, in a totally different life, trustworthy? These are just a few of the issues put in front of the reader who needs to sort out clues from red herrings. The twists and turns in the story begin early and continue throughout the story, with the biggest twist coming at the end and changing how the entire puzzle needs to be considered.
Meanwhile, on the personal side of things, Charlotte is managing the elegant life that will be required of her as a countess, but having serious questions about how it will change her. She doesn’t want to give up her work as a satirist calling attention to the foibles of the upper class. She believes the Earl when he says he will accept whatever activities she chooses, but is still acutely aware that in she, as all other women in the Regency time period, will legally be considered more as a piece of property owned by Wrexford, at his whim in terms of what she is allowed to do.
Oh, and one more thing, Charlotte has been estranged from her family for years, since she eloped with an unsuitable young man and moved to Rome. His death did not bring about any reconciliation with her family and her relationship with her father worsened in a previous book. Now her brother has reached out to try and reconcile with her, something she wants as well. But will he accept her for who she is?
The book provides the reader with an excellent window into some of the social issues of the Regency period while offering a heroine who is an independent woman who chaffs at the strictures of the period. The author, Andrea Penrose, has done excellent, in-depth research and provides some interesting facts regarding medical practices and the start of the development of a much-needed treatment for malaria.
This is one of the most interesting, well researched Regency mystery series currently being written. It combines an interesting storyline development with a complex mystery that moves at an even pace. Along with the plotting, relationships with secondary characters who have been fully fleshed out and are intriguing on their own continue to be explored and expanded in interesting and compelling ways. The book is filled with characters the reader might like to know and would like to see succeed in numerous situations that are currently in various states of flux.
While I highly recommend this book to anyone, readers who enjoy series books will enjoy it even more if they read the series in order as the development of the characters and their relationships are better experienced as they happen. For other readers, the mystery is contained within this book, well plotted and executed.
My thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for providing me an advance copy for this review. The opinions stated here are strictly my own.