Murder on Black Swan Lane

Written by Andrea Penrose
Review by Diane Scott Lewis

In Regency London, the bored Earl of Wrexford conducts scientific experiments and behaves as a debauched rake with beautiful women. The arrogant Reverend Holworthy condemns him from the pulpit, and a war of words begins. When Holworthy is found gruesomely murdered, Wrexford is the number one suspect. Meanwhile, someone named A. J. Quill draws satirical cartoons for a local newspaper. A sketch that depicts Wrexford standing over the reverend’s body sends the earl into a fury. He’s determined to clear his name and find out who the enigmatic Quill is.

Charlotte Sloane is a young widow struggling to survive. Her artist husband died leaving her nothing but his persona as A. J. Quill. Also a talented artist, she has secretly taken over the cartoons to make ends meet. Wrexford tracks her down and is astonished a woman is the culprit who pokes lurid fun at London society. Now he insists (and he pays her) that she help him discover the true murderer. The two of them are soon mired in science, alchemy, and an evil plot that will destroy many more lives, including their own.

Penrose weaves a complex story around scientific experiments, especially the ancient art of alchemy, in which men once tried to change lead into gold. People in high places at the Royal Institution are involved, with everyone a suspect. Why Wrexford’s valet has a university education is never explained, but he’s an amusing character. The novel moves at a quick pace, the science is fascinating, and Charlotte and Wrexford are well-fleshed out. The author only hints at an attraction between them as they grow to respect one another. Murder on Black Swan Lane is sure to please mystery fans.