Separated by the Irish Sea from the profligate artist husband once accused of murder (The Rose in the Wheel, not reviewed), Penelope Wolfe, with the help of a pair of influential friends, has landed on her feet as companion to Lady Julia Ashe, a woman so sorely neglected by her crusty father, Sir Roger Wallace-Crag, and her equally well-aged husband that she’s even more badly in need of companionship than Penelope. But murder soon finds the spirited heroine once more. Wakened one February night in 1812 by a cry from the Ashes’ London garden and ignoring the selfish advice of Sir Roger, she leads the servants to discover the dying Dick Ransom, a footman apparently too insignificant either to mourn or to kill. The efforts of Penelope’s influential friends, barrister Edward Buckler and Bow Street Runner John Chase, soon link the slain servant to a Westminster brothel, a Jacobin plot to assassinate the Prince Regent, and a west-country prophet who insists she’s pregnant with the Messiah. Peering beneath fig leaves from the notorious asylum St. Mary of Bethlehem to the zoo at the Tower of London, Buckler and Chase connect Rebecca Barnwell, the pregnant preacher, to Lady Julia’s embarrassed family. Regrettably, the sleuthing trio, though they encounter more than their share of petty liars, grandiose schemers, and unexpected adventures, generate little tension in their flavorsome tour of London and environs.
Even so, the steaming evocation of period low-life makes this Anne Perryish exercise a far cry from your grandmother’s Regency whodunit.