by Andrea Penrose
Series: Wrexford & Sloane #5
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
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 . . .
I still like this series, but what started out as a string of compelling mysteries is starting to lose its edge. Blame it on the editor, reader feedback, or change of perspective on the part of the author, but the whole narrative has become entirely too idealistic to be reasonably realistic. There was an excess of repetitive statements about the family you choose, the power of love, and an awful lot of lamenting over the death of an objectively heinous individual. All of these ideals are wonderful and worth striving for, but considering the early 1800’s setting, I doubt very much they were worked quite so thoroughly into the mindset of anybody living at the time. The result was a book that felt entirely too much like a religious genre novel. Only with murder and (light) swearing.
What I did enjoy was the botanical setting of Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, and the impetus behind the plot being the race for a game-changing medicinal plant that enhances the effect of cinchona, or quinine, against malaria (plant being entirely fictional). I really enjoyed the name drops of real historical figures, including Alexander von Humboldt – and was tickled to see the author recommend Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature in the story notes.
The plot was going rather well until I neared the end, when the author suddenly felt the need to work in a slave-trade angle that felt like a bolt from nowhere. Looking at the story as a whole, it felt like the author needed to wrap up some loose ends from the previous book, needing to kill someone off while keeping the current book’s plot going. I don’t know, but it just felt super clumsy.
I’ll read a 6th, should it appear, because I really do enjoy the cast of characters, but if this idealistic stuff continues to the point of incredulity, I’ll add this series to the “done for me” list.