Resilient as ever, in the third installment of Wood’s deliciously melodramatic Victorian mystery teenage governess Penelope Lumley takes on threats to her wolfish young charges that include a hustler after the Ashton fortune.
The unexpected sighting of an ostrich among the larks and thrushes in the woods near Ashton Place heralds the arrival of bluff Admiral Albert Faucet (“That’s faw-say, my good man. Not faucet”). Once he meets the three feral children Penelope is charged with training up to be human, Faucet’s scheme to finance the introduction of ostrich racing to the British Isles by marrying the Dowager Lady Ashton is transformed to visions of wolf racing and sideshow exhibitions. Fortunately Penelope, proud graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, is not only up to that challenge but numerous others. These range from actually riding the aforementioned ostrich and meeting a pack of oversize, strangely intelligent wolves (if wolves they be) to orchestrating a climactic séance designed to contact the Dowager’s first husband, drowned (purportedly) in the medicinal tar pits at Gooden-Baden. Along with gleefully pitching her plucky protagonist into one crisis after another, punctuated by authorial disquisitions on similes, rhetorical questions, contagious punning and other linguistic follies, the author slips in a few more seemingly significant Clues to the Ashtons’ curious history and Penelope’s apparent involvement in it.
Still howling good fun, though the series’ big Reveal doesn’t seem any closer than before. (Melodrama. 10-12)