As noted earlier, I love Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford & Sloane series—also her ongoing Lady Arianna Hadley series, which has some interesting overlaps in terms of characters with Wrexford & Sloane (on which, more below). I interviewed the author last year when Murder at the Botanic Gardens came out. You can find out quite a bit about the main characters and their relationships, as well as the Napoleonic/Regency background of both series, by listening to that interview. You can also find out more about series, author, and background at http://andreapenrose.com.
One thing that sets the series apart, in addition to fascinatingly complex characters and richly and often beautifully described settings, is that each novel explores a scientific development that began during the English Regency and still influences our world. In this case, that invention involves military technology. I can’t say more because discovering exactly what the invention is and what happened to the plans for it consumes the first half of the book. But I will say that the invention, were it to succeed, would give whatever country controlled it a distinct advantage over its enemies. At a moment when Napoleon appears to have finally been defeated and sent to exile on Elba, the possibility that said invention could fall into the hands of the French has all the Allied Powers sweating. Most of them don’t trust each other any more than they do the French, which has them all at one another’s throats. That we know Napoleon won’t be on Elba for long (even though the characters don’t) just ups the ante.
Fans of Penrose’s other Regency series featuring Lady Arianna will be happy to see the arrival of Lord Grentham, the mysterious and ruthless minister of state security, with this novel. Charlotte Sloane’s two urchins also make a new friend, and Wrexford and Sloane’s partnership continues to develop, as do certain other relationships. But this installment is not just a worthy addition to the series; it is my favorite so far. The only downside of getting my hands on it early is that I’ll have to wait even longer for the next one. But Murder at the Serpentine Bridge is out as of this Tuesday, so you don’t have to wait.
In the absence of greater detail of what to expect, I can offer, with the permission of Kensington Books, the following excerpt from the Prologue to give you a taste of what’s to come. Alas for poor Willis, things only go downhill from here.
Darkness had settled over the city, and yet the night was quite pleasant, the first hints of summer warmth softening the breeze. The lone figure stood on the front steps of the elegant townhouse, taking a moment to savor the stillness and the play of moonlight on the ornamental plantings before turning his steps for the street.
The hour was late, and no clatter of carriage wheels echoed off the surrounding stone and brick. “Peace and quiet,” murmured Jeremiah Willis, after looking up and down the north side of Montpelier Square. “Thank God.” Not that the evening hadn’t been enjoyable. The conversation had been interesting—how could it not have been, given the subject?—and the meal superb. Still, the cacophony of voices clashing with the clink of crystal and silver had begun to make his skull throb.
“Though maybe,” reflected Willis, with a wry smile, “the headache had more to do with the very fine brandy poured after supper than anything else.” He drew in a deep breath.
Only to regret it. After all these years, he still hadn’t reconciled himself to London’s foul-scented air. Oh, how he longed for …
But Willis quickly pushed the thought from his mind and began walking. He had made choices in life that required sacrifices. He didn’t regret them.
The sound of his steps on the cobblestones seemed unnaturally loud as he turned up Charles Street and came to Knightsbridge, the main road skirting along the south edge of Hyde Park. Feeling a little muzzy from all the wine and spirits, he looked around for a hackney.
But oddly enough, there wasn’t a vehicle to be seen. Even the area around the Life Guards barracks was deserted.
It must be even later than I thought.
Photograph of the Serpentine Bridge from below public domain via Wikimedia Commons.