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Book: “Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens” by Andrea Penrose
Publishing Info: Kensington Publishing Corporation, September 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat
Book Description: 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…
Previously Reviewed: “Murder at the Queen’s Landing“
Review: This has been a series of highs and lows for me. While I love the detailed historical insights that come with these mysteries, I’ve also been befuddled by overly complex mysteries and an ever-increasing cast of characters. That said, I enjoyed the last book quite a bit, and I’m still thoroughly on board with keeping up with the series. Is my investment in Charlotte’s and Wrexford’s relationship a large part of that? Yes, what of it?
While Charlotte and Wrexford’s love for one another has never been in question, Charlotte is increasingly concerned about the burdens of marriage that will soon be hers to bear. Regardless of the equality and freedom that Wrexford has worked so hard to ensure for her, Charlotte will still be a Countess, and with that comes certain responsibilities to society. And where can her work as a satirical artist fit into this increasingly all-encompassing role. With all of these thoughts plaguing her, Charlotte is almost relieved to stumble upon yet another murder mystery, this one throwing the two into the mysterious world of medical science and recent discoveries that could change the face of medicine.
While there have been ups and downs in other areas of the stories, there is no question that Penrose is a devoted researcher. Each books does a deep dive into unique aspects of this particular time period and thoroughly expands on the intricacies involved. This one tackles recent discoveries in medicine and pharmaceutical science. But it doesn’t stop with just discussing changes to treatments and understanding of certain illnesses and their effects on the body. Penrose dives into how, even in this time period, control over these sorts of discoveries is understood to hold an enormous potential for wealth and power. I really enjoyed learning all about this, and thought the mystery itself regarding this topic was complicated and engaging.
Which leaves us with the rest of the book, which is where I struggled a bit more. For one thing, this is book number five in the series. At this point, I generally think authors should trust that readers have either read the previous books or are the sorts of reader who are fine jumping into a series where they don’t know all of the details. Instead, Penrose picks the worst of the options and spends a significant portion of the beginning of the book reintroducing the, now large, cast of characters and how their relationships weave in and out. Not only does this all just feel like unnecessary page filler, but it delays the start of the actual plot and sets up the pacing to fail. I’m not sure what the thinking was with this decision, but I think it hurt the book fairly significantly right off the bat.
From there, other than my interest in the actual subject of the mystery, I struggled to feel the same connection to our main two characters. Charlotte was especially frustrating, spending huge chunks of this book stuck in an indecisive swirl of anxiety. And by the end of the book, it didn’t feel like any of this time spent on these emotions contributed to much change for her character or much of a character arc at all. Wrexford, too, felt very bland. While I wasn’t as actively frustrated with his story, there was also just wasn’t much there for him. Again, what character arc or growth did he experience in this book, cuz I really couldn’t find any.
Overall, I found this to be disappointing entry into the series. The chemistry between Charlotte and Wrexford seemed pale in comparison to previous books, and both character individually felt flat. It is still a well-researched, interesting mystery. But without its main character providing any emotional stakes, the whole thing felt rather deflated and more of a trial to get through than other entries.
Rating 7: Fairly disappointing, the interesting historical aspects weren’t enough to make up for the lackluster character arcs.
“Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women.