Andrea Penrose

Books: Mystery | Historical

Lady Arianna Hadley: Sweet Revenge (2011), The Cocoa Conspiracy (2014), Recipe For Treason (2014)

Lady Arianna Hadley

Sweet Revenge (2011)

Set in London in 1813.

Arianna Hadley is working in Lady Spenser's kitchen as a chef, in the hopes to find information about the men who murdered her father.

The Earl of Saybrook was invalided out of the Army, and seems to spend most of his days in misery, escaping what he can with Laudanum. His uncle recommends that Sandro be asked to look into the poisoning of the Prince Regent at Lady Spenser's home, where things are now what they seem.

I started reading this book more than a year ago, and couldn't get into it. But I couldn't figure out what I wanted to read, so I decided to try this again.

It has weaknesses, but the mystery and the characters were both interesting and kept me in the story.

It also has some secondary characters I quite enjoyed.

"Does that mean your visit is not simply about making amends for your shocking neglect of your elderly great-aunt?"

"My favorite elderly great-aunt," amended Saybrook.

She gave a snort. "Your only elderly great-aunt."

I can see this story isn't for everyone–there is a LOT of history here, in this case discussion of the South Sea Bubble, but since I find things like that fascinating, it worked well for me.

It also had some weaknesses, but since this is a self-published first-in-a series, I'm willing to cut the book some slack. We'll see how the next book goes.


Rating: 6.5/10

The Cocoa Conspiracy (2014)

Set in England and Vienna in 1814.

Lady Adrianna stopped at her husband's favorite bookseller on the way home from the market, only to get into a scuffle with a strange man over a book on chocolate.

Sandro, Lord Saybrook, is asked by his uncle, Lord Mellon, to attend a house party in which he hopes Saybrook's Spanish blood will give him entree with the Spanish delegation.

It is while at this party that murder is attempted and Adrianna discovered dispatches hidden in the book she purchased for her husband.

While I believe in a good many radical ideas, I think fanatics of any cause are dangerous. Fomenting change through violence and bloodshed is not something I espouse."

The mystery here is interesting, and the historical period–the time of the Conference of Vienna, is a fascinating one, but some of the things that happened were–a bit beyond belief.

I believe this passage sums up what bothered me.

Arianna heard a drawer bang, and then he was back, brandishing two perfectly matched pistols. "I wouldn't lend these to just anyone, but you strike me as someone who knows how to handle them."


And also this:

Drawing a steadying breath, Arianna took deliberate aim and squeezed off a shot. Bang. He wasn't. Through the skirl of blue-gray smoke, Arianna saw the key explode in a whirl of spinning shards.

Finest deuling pistols in the world or not, that's just not a shot that someone whose life is threatened is going to take–shooting a key out of someone's hands.

I also took a little umbrage with the gentleman who had badly burned hands,–and then fought a sword duel.

The bandages were gone, but the comte's elegant hands were still swollen and scabbed.

With scabbed and swollen hands this person can still pick up a sword and duel well? I find that unlikely.

Mind you , it wasn't that the story overall was bad, it was just that there were a few too many unlikely events piled atop one another.


Rating: 5.5/10

Recipe For Treason (2014)

Set in ~1814

The first two books in this series were fine.

This one, however, irritated me.

Let's start with first thing to drive me to a snarky comment, 5% into the story.

The coachman had been knocked unconscious by a rock during the initial attack. But with his head bandaged by the surgeon and his belly warmed by the whisky, he had insisted he was fit to drive.

"Oh. Well that seems like a perfectly fine."

My irritation and snark only continued from there.

Adrianna spent her formative years in the Caribbean and West Indies.

"My Spanish is excellent, as is my American accent  .  .  ." She switched to a flat drawl.

I don't buy that. First, I'm not sure that the American accent was a "flat drawl" in the early 1800s (see also the accents of my home state, which are neither flat nor drawling), and even if it WAS, the accents of the Caribbean, which would be the ones she could easily slip into, are NOT flat, but are instead melodious and beautiful.

Then we got to this bit, which drove me to the Internet.

"I've removed the bullet and sewn up his shoulder. His body is beginning te look like a lady's embroidery sampler, what with all the stitch marks te his hide. But I daresay he'll survive."

"Really? No concern about infection?"

Murray absently wiped his hands on his tweed pants, leaving a tiny trace of blood on the wool.

"Especially in light of such sanitary practices?"

"Fever might not be the most serious threat to his well-being," said Saybrook softly.

And off I was, searching the internet for rates of death from infection following gunshots in the early 1800s. Surprisingly, I couldn't find numbers, per se, but I'm not done looking. But I did learn that amputation was common during this time, so stave off death from infection (which was common).

FREX, this bit is talking about WWI.

Many soldiers lost limbs and life due to infected  wounds and disease.  …  In 1918 a group of surgeons took cultures of  wound swabs from their patients and found that 90.3% of the wounds  were infected.

Runcie H (2015) Infection in a Pre-Antibiotic Era. J Anc Dis Prev Rem 3: 125.

To be clear, the man shrugging off the possibility of wound sepsis fought in Europe and was himself seriously injured. Not sane person at that time would shrug off the possibility of infection.

THEN there was the melodrama.

"I realize this appears a trifle odd, but allow me to explain."

He cleared his throat with a cough. "By all means, do."

"We need your help. Or rather, Britain needs your help. A pair of traitors are seeking to escape to France with vital documents. A man named (name) is to (assist) them across the Channel in his (ship). They must be stopped  .  .  ."

Gee. How could be not believe that?

And then finally, this:

A few seconds later, a muffled cry rose above the thrum of the wind.

"Bang on the mark!" exclaimed Sadler. "You knocked the pistol from his hand."

"Ha, and it fell overboard!" added Sophia.

With a pistol. From one moving vehicle to another. In 1812.

No. No no no all the nos no.

I also have grave concerns about this"

He added a large pair of iron tongs to the sack containing bullets and gunpowder."

"What's that for?" asked Sophia.

"Heating the lead to a red-hot glow over the fire before we load our weapons," he answered grimly.

I won't say it's not something that was done, but with a black-powder pistol that seems EXTRA dangerous. (If someone could explain how that could or could not work, I'd appreciate it.)

So, no. I can't recommend this book, nor suggest that you start the series–entirely too much aggravation.


Rating: 4/10