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Book: “Murder at Kensington Palace” by Andrea Penrose
Publishing Info: Kensington Books/Kensington Publishing Corp, September 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: Though Charlotte Sloane’s secret identity as the controversial satirical cartoonist A.J. Quill is safe with the Earl of Wrexford, she’s ill prepared for the rippling effects sharing the truth about her background has cast over their relationship. She thought a bit of space might improve the situation. But when her cousin is murdered and his twin brother is accused of the gruesome crime, Charlotte immediately turns to Wrexford for help in proving the young man’s innocence. Though she finds the brooding scientist just as enigmatic and intense as ever, their partnership is now marked by an unfamiliar tension that seems to complicate every encounter.
Despite this newfound complexity, Wrexford and Charlotte are determined to track down the real killer. Their investigation leads them on a dangerous chase through Mayfair’s glittering ballrooms and opulent drawing rooms, where gossip and rumors swirl to confuse the facts. Was her cousin murdered over a romantic rivalry . . . or staggering gambling debts? Or could the motive be far darker and involve the clandestine scientific society that claimed both brothers as members? The more Charlotte and Wrexford try to unknot the truth, the more tangled it becomes. But they must solve the case soon, before the killer’s madness seizes another victim…
Review: Once I discover a good audiobook series, I get pretty addicted. It also usually goes that this happens with the historical mystery series I read. Mostly this is because I’ve found I greatly prefer British audiobook narrators (something about the accent seems to elevate even pretty boring books to a more interesting level, let alone the boost they give to already entertaining stories) and these are the narrators often chosen for the historical mysteries I typically enjoy. And while I’m still really enjoying the narrator’s presentation of this book, I did begin to struggle with this story more than the first two in the series.
This time murder falls at Charlotte’s door after she and Wrexford learn of the brutal murder of Charlotte’s cousin, a wealthy and powerful young man. When his twin brother is accused of committing the crime, Charlotte knows he must be innocent and persuades Wrexford to join her quest to find the real murderer. Though the two are still unsure of where they stand with each other, their partnership and devotion to uncovering the truth lead them to pursue all avenues of investigation. And for Charlotte, this may mean uprooting the quiet, anonymous life that she has built for herself and her two young wards.
So, let’s start out with the good stuff. I’m continually impressed by the quality of the mysteries at the heart of these stories. The author sets up several compelling motives and possible culprits as the story goes on. All of the classic stuff: for love, for money, for power. Wrexford and Charlotte each uncover various aspects of each of these possible motives, and it was fun seeing how these stories began to interweave, with characters Wrexford interrogated and received certain clues then wandering across Charlotte’s path, and, because of her different perspective, yielding different and new information.
There were also some rather major changes to Charlotte’s life that were explored in this book. We only got to see the barest hints of these changes in action, but it was fun to see that character’s trajectory travelling along a compelling arch of change. For his part, Wrexford felt a bit more stagnant, with the author more unsure where to take this character beyond the basic premise of who and what he is. I’m hopeful that more can be done to create a story for Wrexford on his own, but we’ll have to see.
However, I did start to have problems with the general layout and progression of the story. In so many ways, it felt like a simple retread of the exact same plot we’ve seen in the first two books. Like I said, the mysteries have all been good on their own and very different (I also want to add that I’ve liked the different areas of science that have been explored and the interesting culture of science in Victorian England at this time), but the actual layout of the plot has been almost exactly the same each time. To an almost comical level! The last half of each book, in particular, follows a very predictable train of events that was fairly tiring to retread once again here.
Also, in a direct contradiction to my concerns over the second book where I worried that the romance had been too rushed, here, the author fell into the exact opposite problem. We have here an example of the classic “characters fail to talk about basic things” trope to develop tension and draw out a romantic progression. It was an equally unsuccessful trope here as it has been almost every other time I’ve encountered it. I was also disappointed to see the romance, too, follow the exact same arch we’ve seen in the previous book, with Wrexford and Sloane suddenly confessing feelings and thoughts while under duress at the conclusion of the mystery.
This was my least favorite book in the series so far. It was far too obvious how much the author seemed to be following a “paint by number” plot format, and the romance swung wildly from one misfire in the previous book to a very different, but equally frustrating, misfire here. I will be continuing with the series, however, as there were enough changes to the basic set-up of the situation (notably, Charlotte’s change in society) that I’m curious to see where the series will go from here. But if the same plot line shows up again, I may have to call it quits.
Rating 7: An all too familiar chain of events really crippled a story that once again had a good mystery at its heart.