The Cocoa Conspiracy – Andrea Penrose

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The delectable thing about immersing yourself in reading and classical music is that the combination is pure pleasure. Stir some chocolate into that mix and you have truly achieved nirvana. So, this raw, chilly, gloomy day in New York City is as blissful as it gets. The Cocoa Conspiracy, a Regency mystery by Andrea Penrose is replete with inscrutable villains, crafty heroines, dashing heroes, unbreakable codes and a plot to subvert high-level European diplomacy in the wake of Napoleon’s exile to Elba. It is also a divine, from-scratch, chocolate cookbook with a recipe for a mouthwatering confection opening each chapter.

Add to this bracing amalgamation the open rehearsal at the New York Philharmonic I just attended and life seems to resemble a physics equation. Everything is connected. The Phil played Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the Eroica, that he wrote for and intended to dedicate to Napoleon, believing that they shared a devotion to Hellenic principles of democracy. Just before the debut of the piece, Beethoven received word that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor, abandoning his enlightened politics for the role of dictator. Beethoven was so furious and disillusioned that he ripped up the cover sheet for his composition and violently erased the dedication to Napoleon on the first page of the score, naming it instead a work to commemorate a nameless hero. So I make some notes about a fun murder mystery with a head full of strings, flutes, oboes, bassoons and trumpets—a contemporaneous soundtrack for chocolate-covered literary mayhem.

First, the recipes are to drool over. I intend to copy a number of them before I return this book to the library. (Irredeemable chocoholic.) Second, Andrea Penrose writes a good Regency mystery. Lady Arianna, Countess of Saybrook, is one tough cookie who doesn’t hesitate to deploy her considerable feminine wiles in the service of exposing villainy. Actually, that’s probably my one quibble with the book. I got a little tired of her seduction of the bad guys to deflect attention from the efforts of her equally keen, morally upright husband Sandro, the Earl of Saybrook, to uncover dastardly deeds and save European civilization—or at least key members of his family and his own neck. Arianna can shoot with deadly aim, connect a well-placed kick, disguise herself as a man undetected, outrun most of the scoundrels and out-think conspirators. But her default is racy innuendo and, by the end of the book, it was enough already.

Nevertheless, first-rate genre book, reasonably surprising plot, excellent sidekick friend, interesting history, well-paced, more than enough hot chocolate (the Saybrooks drink a lot of hot chocolate), and yummy recipes. I will hunt for the first book in the series—this is #2–and sign up for the third episode which is yet to be published. An entertaining read and probably fattening as well—nothing’s perfect.

The Cocoa Conspiracy: A Lady Arianna Regency Mystery (Lady Arianna Hadley Mystery)
Andrea Penrose | Obsidian  2011

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