Wrexford and Sloane #6 sees Lord Wrexford and his now Lady Charlotte once again chasing villainy. Though married contentment permeates Penrose’s latest, the honeymoon is definitely over when Wrexford and the Weasels pull a body from the Serpentine. The publisher’s description lays out the mystery’s stakes for Charlotte, Wrexford (what the heck is his first name?), the Weasels, their friends, and a lovely new addition to their found family:
Charlotte, now the Countess of Wrexford, would like nothing more than a summer of peace and quiet with her new husband and their unconventional family and friends. Still, some social obligations must be honored, especially with the grand Peace Celebrations unfolding throughout London to honor victory over Napoleon.
But when Wrexford and their two young wards, Raven and Hawk, discover a body floating in Hyde Park’s famous lake, that newfound peace looks to be at risk. The late Jeremiah Willis was the engineering genius behind a new design for a top-secret weapon, and the prototype is missing from the Royal Armory’s laboratory. Wrexford is tasked with retrieving it before it falls into the wrong hands. But there are unsettling complications to the case—including a family connection.
Soon, old secrets are tangling with new betrayals, and as Charlotte and Wrexford spin through a web of international intrigue and sumptuous parties, they must race against time to save their loved ones from harm—and keep the weapon from igniting a new war . . .
The publisher’s blurb makes Wrexford and Sloane #6 sound fast-paced and exciting. Certainly there are scenes that are, but overall, Penrose’s series is one of labyrinthine schemes, constant foils against Charlotte and Wrexford and their intrepid friends’ sleuthing efforts, and rife with historical detail. The writing is consistently competent and the characters, from their introduction in book #1 to the present volume, likable and admirable, with ethical cores, care for the vulnerable, a primary insistence on justice to be served, and a deep love for each other. Who wouldn’t want to inhabit a world such as they’ve created?
Though I love Wrexford and Charlotte, Raven, Hawk, Lady Cordelia, and Kit Sheffield (as well as a new family addition, young Peregrine, dubbed “Falcon” by the Weasels), I grew impatient with the novel’s pacing and how Penrose structures the mystery plot. Penrose is in love with her research and cannot give up a single minute detail, to the detriment of her mystery. Her plotting gives way to adding character upon character and making connections among them until this reader grew dizzy with keeping any track of who was who and, more importantly, who was guilty. I suspect Penrose thinks this adds depth to historical context and the psychological intricacies of motivation and guilt. Um, not really. A strong mystery needs to be seamless, inexorable, surprising yes, but it shouldn’t leave you so confused, you don’t care.
Nevertheless, there are still strengths to Penrose’s series, though she doesn’t play to them as much as she should. There are touches of humour provided by the Weasels, Raven and Hawk, and Wrexford and Charlotte’s friend, Kit Sheffield. There is the genuine loyalty and love that bind them, touching and built beautifully over the series’ course. There are excellent scenes, such as the Weasels’ forays into the “stews”. There are scenes of lovely family dynamics, such as Charlotte’s growing sense of how the Weasels are growing up, how uncertain she feels about parenting them, and how she and Wrexford especially find the right thing to say and do that will help Raven and Hawk mature and yet still remain themselves. My one pet peeve is how flat the marriage between Charlotte and Wrexford is: yes, there seems to be affection…but a more sexless, boring newly-married couple I’ve yet to read. Penrose doesn’t want her mystery to deviate into romance (ooooh, tainting!), but I think of Raybourn’s Lady Jane and the mysterious Nicholas Brisbane and how fresh she kept them (and sexy), or how beautifully C. S. Harris manages to convey a compelling mystery, truly fast-paced, and the love and tenderness between Sebastian and Hero. I won’t abandon Wrexford and Sloane, I like them and their world too much for that, but I’ll yearn for a faster pace to the mystery and some revelations about Charlotte and her Lord Wrexford.
When reviewing the sixth book in a series, whether I recommend a particular volume or not becomes less important than telling readers that the series as a whole is a good read. This I can say quite heartily about Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane. As for the present Murder At the Serpentine Bridge, it’s “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
I’m grateful to Kensington Books for an e-ARC provided for this review, via Netgalley.