Mini-Review: Andrea Penrose’s MURDER AT THE SERPENTINE BRIDGE (Wrexford and Sloane Mystery #6)

Murder_Serpentine_BridgeWrexford 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.

10 thoughts on “Mini-Review: Andrea Penrose’s MURDER AT THE SERPENTINE BRIDGE (Wrexford and Sloane Mystery #6)

  1. I also recently finished this! I actually enjoyed it more than the previous books. I loved the new addition to the family/Weasel crew. I do know what you mean by too much detail, but for whatever reason, it didn’t bother me here. Maybe I was just in the mood for a leisurely read. I did get a bit bored with all the stuff about plant poisons in the previous book. I didn’t find the storyline or characters too confusing or complex either, unlike a suspense novel I just finished(The Boy in the Woods by Harlan Coben), which had too many (mostly unlikeable)characters to keep track of and too many last minute plot twists.
    Of course no other historical mystery couple has sexual tension the way Hero and Sebastian do. But I like that Charlotte & Wrexford progressed to marriage. Unlike the Jennifer Ashley Below Stairs mysteries, which seem to be bogged down, with Kat and Daniel no closer to a relationship, and his life still a mystery.

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    1. I’ve never read Coben and now I know I’ll stay away!! I’m reading another Mick Herron, Dead Lions, and man-oh-man, what a fine, clear writer. I mean apples and oranges to compare here, but I wish Penrose would use her writing talents to do less of a “pile-on” of twist after twist. But maybe I wasn’t in the mood for it. Herron does this brilliant thing to avoid an info-dump for those who haven’t read the first book: he describes the characters, the “slow horses,” as if a stray cat were observing them when she wanders into Slough House. And then, each character’s response to seeing the cat and reacting to it tells us a lot about each character: for someone who read the first book, clever irony and humour; if you haven’t, you get them right away.

      More importantly, you have written GOLD here: “Of course no other historical mystery couple has sexual tension the way Hero and Sebastian do.” How does Harris do it?: they are just wonderful. I love them so. I like them together even more than I do Veronica and Stoker…Veronica is just too hard on Stoker, when he loves her. I want her to soften. Raybourn really loves hard-hearted heroines.

      Ah, yes, Kat and Daniel: she’s bogging them down too. Whereas I do agree, I’m glad Penrose saw Charlotte and Wrexford (do you know what his darn first name is???!!) married, come’on, just give them something of passion, attraction even, it’s hard to believe they’re newly-weds. But I’m hoping maybe we’ll see that with Cordelia and Kit, whom I adore. Still, Penrose says there’ll be another two? three? books for them, so I’ll be there!

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      1. OK, I did a few minutes of Googling, and according to Goodreads, his first name is Alexander. https://www.goodreads.com/characters/1031172-lord-wrexford Not that anyone ever uses it.
        Coben is a fine writer, just not to my taste. The reason I read it was because it was set in the Ramapo Mountains of NJ, where I grew up, and once I started reading I felt like I was in a lightly fictionalized version of my little home town. Only with more crime and murder. It was an eerie feeling.
        And I agree, Veronica is a hard nut. The Speedwell books are my least favorite of the dozen or so historical mystery series I read, but I keep hoping she’ll ease up.

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        1. Alexander: that is actually quite fitting! Thank you for that. I think things would get a lot better if Charlotte were to start calling him that.

          I know exactly what you means: I’m not a super-duper fan of Mordechai Richler, but he writes about Montreal and the neighbourhood where I grew up so well, it’s irresistible to me.

          I don’t know, I’m not holding out any hope for Veronica: Raybourn softened her a tad and then, in the last book, made sure she was back to her hard-on-Stoker self. Argh, but it does keep me reading!

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        1. What a wonderful article, thank you so much: I love Jill Lepore. Do you listen to her podcast, The Last Archive? It’s great.

          I just finished Dead Lions, so good. It’s going to be one of my Wintery-February reads. I predict you’re going to love Herron…#justsayin

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          1. I’m finding it hard to make the time to listen to podcasts, but I do read a lot of Lepore in The New Yorker. I subscribe to the print magazine, but I am always running a month or so behind, as you can see from the date of the article.

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  2. Oh my goodness, this: “A strong mystery needs to be seamless, inexorable, surprising yes, but it shouldn’t leave you so confused, you don’t care.”

    I’m glad the series holds up, even when this particular entry isn’t quite up to the standards set by the previous installments. Crossing fingers for improvements in the next one–and sending you many good wishes for 2023, in reading and in life.

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