Book Reviews

Book Review: Murder at the Serpentine Bridge by Andrea Penrose – Entertaining Historical Fiction Mystery

Thank you to Andrea Penrose Kensington Books for sending me this as an Advanced Reader Copy. This is my unbiased review.

Picking up a series in the middle can sometimes be difficult. Oftentimes I’ve found I missed out on too much and to understand the current book I have to go back to the beginning and start there to understand the characters and their situations. Fortunately, that is not the case with Murder at the Serpentine Bridge. I’ll go back and read the books prior to this because I want to after reading such a charming, fun, thriller.

Charlotte, the new Countess of Wrexford, is looking forward to a summer in London enjoying all of the celebrations surrounding the defeat of Napoleon. One evening, her husband and the two young wards, known affectionately as “The Weasels” are walking in Hyde Park and come across a body floating near the Serpentine Bridge. The man’s name is Jeremiah Willis, and he was apparently designing a new repeating action for a rifle that would alter the course of any war, for the country that controls it, that is.

Willis’ design is missing following his death. Wrexford is asked by the government to try and locate it, as well as the people who are involved in a multinational auction for the plans and the prototype. With so many national representatives on hand for the peace celebrations, just about anybody could be involved.

Murder at the Serpentine Bridge was a fun read. Despite not knowing the characters’ backgrounds before this novel, enough was filled in that I understood who they were and what was happening. Wrexford and Charlotte have apparently been acquainted for some time, and have worked on mysteries together in the past. Charlotte has a number of aliases that allow her to move through the world unnoticed, but now she is a bit confined since she has a noble title. The two boys, Raven and Hawk, apparently were street urchins who gained their favor and whom they now treat as their own.

They have a wide circle of friends involved in this mystery. For something that was supposed to be clandestine, it seemed that there were quite a few people who were in this trusted circle. Every time a new character appeared on the scene, it seemed that he or she knew of Charlotte’s alias as the satirical artist A.J. Quill, something she would ostensibly like to keep quiet. I hope that is something that will be cleared up by earlier books in the series, but for now, it was easy enough to accept it at face value.

The mystery is intriguing. Jeremiah Willis is a black man at a time when it was generally considered that they weren’t as intelligent as their white counterparts. The backstory here comes out little by little, but apparently, he’s part of a group of slaves who were brought back from America following the Revolution because they helped the British soldiers. Willis’ nephew, Peregrine (the author must have some love of birds to come up with these names) is related to Charlotte by marriage. Peregrine is currently under the care of his Uncle, Belmont, who resents that his brother sullied the family line by taking a mulatto wife. Belmont is only too eager to allow Chrlotte and Wrexford to take Peregrine (now nicknamed “Falcon”) off his hands.

However, Wrex and Charlotte soon learn that Belmont is involved in the auction to some degree. The fact that Peregrine might know where his Uncle hid the plans and the prototype also puts him in danger, even if he keeps the secret.

There is a lot of social commentary here, but it’s subtle. Charlotte has never liked being a member of society, and despite her love for Wrex, she still doesn’t. Still, she goes along with things as much as she has to, all the while pining for a much different world. She sees through the lines that divide the upper class from the people on the streets and thinks there may be something to this idea in America that familial lineage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The depiction of London and the Peace Celebrations is a lot of fun. It was a simpler time in many ways, where windows displaying candlelight give the town of Oxford a simple beauty that pedestrians can appreciate as the various entourages meet there to begin the celebrations.

However, it’s the mystery that ties everything together, and it’s a good one. I went back and forth as to who it could be, and once it was revealed, everything did make sense. Penrose crafted a good mystery that kept me glued to the book for the last 100 pages. At the same time, the personal details of what I believe are her ongoing cast of characters break up the story and make for a lot of fun. It’s a great bit of historical fiction in an interesting setting made up of good characters.

4 stars.

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