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Book: “Murder at Half Moon Gate” by Andrea Penrose
Publication Info: Kensington, March 2018
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: When Lord Wrexford discovers the body of a gifted inventor in a dark London alley, he promptly alerts the watchman and lets the authorities handle the matter. But Wrexford soon finds himself drawn into the murder investigation when the inventor’s widow begs for his assistance, claiming the crime was not a random robbery. It seems her husband’s designs for a revolutionary steam-powered engine went missing the night of his death. The plans could be worth a fortune . . . and very dangerous in the wrong hands.
Joining Wrexford in his investigation is Charlotte Sloane, who uses the pseudonym A. J. Quill to publish her scathing political cartoons. Her extensive network of informants is critical for her work, but she doesn’t mind tapping that same web of spies to track down an elusive killer. Each suspect—from ambitious assistants to rich investors, and even the inventor’s widow—is entwined in a maze of secrets and lies that leads Wrexford and Sloane down London’s most perilous stews and darkest alleyways.
With danger lurking at every turn, the potent combination of Wrexford’s analytical mind and Sloane’s exacting intuition begins to unravel the twisted motivations behind the inventor’s death. But they are up against a cunning and deadly foe—a killer ready to strike again before they can recover the inventor’s priceless designs . . .
Previously Reviewed: “Murder on Black Swan Lane”
Review: Once I discover a “goody,” my self-control really goes out of the window. This is especially true for good books that likewise have good audiobook versions. I’ve found that audiobook narrator preferences are among the more individualized preferences in readers, and a good or bad narrator can really make or break a book for me. So when I read the first book in this series and discovered that I greatly enjoyed the writing itself, I was excited. When I also realized that the narrator, James Cameron Stewart, was just of the variety that I prefer, I was thrilled. So, buckle in as we likely review this series one after another over the next few months!
After forming an unlikely team to solve one mystery, both Mrs. Sloane and Lord Wrexford doubt their paths will cross in quite the same way again. They’ve maintained their blossoming friendship, but their social circles by no means intersect. That is until Lord Wrexford literally stumbles across the scene of a new crime, and after having his heartstrings (such as they are) tugged on upon by a becoming widow, he finds himself yet again caught up in a mystery. And knowing the value of the unique eye that Charlotte brings to these sorts of crimes, she, too, finds herself caught up once again in murder. But as they circle closer and closer to the truth amidst a complicated web of science, ambition, and greed, the killer also draws closer and closer to them.
Given the way the other murder landed on our two main characters’ tables, I was curious to see how the author was going to get them entangled in another. Not every murder in London can be personally tied to one of the two! But I thought the method here was effective. Nominally, it’s a random murder that Wrexford is only drawn into after being personally petitioned. But as the plot thickens, so, too, do we see how it provides an opportunity to gather more insight into our main characters. Wrexford begins to question how he see those around him, why this particular widow was able to pull on his heartstrings and how this insight reflects on his burgeoning relationship with Charlotte.
For her part, Charlotte is beginning to expand her life outwards, starting with a move to a larger house in a more respectable part of London. This comes with the unique challenge of appropriately drawing on the support systems she has while not compromising her pride in the independent lifestyle she has created for herself and the two boys under her care. Given her unique position, she’s able cross the boundaries between a respectable lady who can call upon the grieving widow and an independent entity who can call upon sources on the streets to turn over the darker underside of London itself. But this balance is becoming precarious, and in this story, we see the costs that Charlotte bears trying to maintain both sides of things.
The mystery itself was intriguing and complicated. I feel like half of the books one reads about this time period have some reference to the Luddite protests that were so prevalent in public discourse. But I liked the way this book tackled the topic while also delving into other modern aspects of business that we take for granted now but that were relatively new at the time. And even with all of these factors at play, the murder itself was still grounded in human emotions and motivations that get to the core of individuals.
My only quibble comes with the relationship between Wrexford and Sloane. In the first book, they meet each other and form a tenuous working relationship that slowly blooms into a sort of friendship. Here, we begin to see that friendship tested with hard truths being spoken and levels of trust explored. But then it felt like the end of the book took a hard dive in a particular direction. The direction itself is unsurprising (I mean, I barely think it’s a spoiler at this point to see where this is going…), but I found the sudden jump in both characters to begin to see/admit to other aspects of the relationship so quickly felt a bit out of left field. It also leaves me wondering where the story will go from here. Honestly, I had this particular storyline pegged out as taking place over several more books before coming to a head, so I’m not as sure now how the author has it plotted out.
But other than that small point, I really enjoyed this book. The author has perfectly nailed the language and feel of this time period in London, and her two main characters are both complicated and layered. I’m hopeful that she hasn’t played too many of her cards too early, but either way, I’m excited to find out in the next book!
Rating 8: An intriguing mystery centered around two increasingly compelling main characters! Count me in for the next one!