Saturday, August 6, 2022

Andrea Penrose - Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens

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...

Comment: This is the 5th installment in the Wrexford and Sloane series by Andrea Penrose. It's one of those series where it is best to read in order, as the events from past books keep being mentioned here and there and the overall arc related to the main characters is sequential.

In this story our protagonists are making plans for their wedding but suddenly there is a new murder and they feel they have to investigate, considering the murdered man was a botanist who had plans to share a novelty with the world, regarding a plant which could be used for medicine and he planned on it being available for everyone but someone clearly thought differently and killed him. Although this doesn't concern them directly, they feel the truth should come out instead of someone benefiting from this murder passing as an accident... but while they investigate, will it be safe for their loved ones or are they putting everyone in risk by doing the right thing?

I think this was a very engaging story for me. I liked the investigation being done and all the dynamics that called for, mostly how the characters we've come to like were often working together for the same purposes. They work as team members and are genuinely good people, so it is a pleasure to read about them or to read scenes where they are doing things.

The plot is well done, I think, with some danger thrown into it to make every step more important and every situation more urgent. I can see why this would seem be a little too frustrating for some readers, though, because a lot of pages are used to explain or contextualize certain information and technical aspects which would have been special or novelties at that time (like the ideas people had on disease, on botany, etc) and this took out too much out of what most would want, which is advance on the characters' relationships.

I confess I did like the secondary aspects related to the plot but I also agree that I hoped there would be a bit more romantic content. We are aware Charlotte and Wrexford are happy with getting married, they often do things for one another we can see it's because they care (a look, a touch, being worried, calling one another love sometimes, etc.) but they never talk about their feelings in an obvious way and although this isn't clearly the intention - this is not erotica after all - more romance between them would have been good, but there's no physical demonstrations except for a kiss or a hug or something bland. 

It's not that I mind the author doesn't go there, but if their relationship developed in such a strong manner, it would have been suitable to have more evidence of that. During this whole book we have mention of wedding preparations but apart from bridal jitters I rarely saw much evidence of how actually important this was, how society would see it, even though Charlotte sometimes mentioned something about it, we don't see things happen on the page and the wedding day is mentioned at the end but we don't really see it. I admit: I felt annoyed this was kept from the story, especially since they were so stoic when they met!

As for the plot, there were some twists coming at the later part of the book, some situations were a little rushed I think, if one thinks about how long it takes to set things up, but I feel the lives of these characters are still fascinating and it's their moral code, their need to do the right thing that makes it so appealing to read. The secondary characters, like the kids and those Charlotte and Wrexford think of as family too are wonderful and make for a very tight cast.

All in all, a good story but I do think it's more than time that the lives of the characters should have been more obviously changed by the occurrences surrounding them and we are told a lot but we don't see enough.
Grade: 7/10

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