I liked The Cocoa Conspiracy so much that I reserved Andrea Penrose’s Sweet Revenge and settled in with it as soon as it arrived at the library. More intriguing chocolate recipes to copy—and more homicidal Regency nobility to unmask. The first book in the series was as delectable as the sequel so I am now officially a fan. The Regency period was certainly rife with conspiracy and malfeasance—this tale includes the kind of high-level financial shenanigans that characterize life in the 21st century.
The New World is still very new to Europe and ripe for major exploitation when Arianna Hadley’s profligate and beloved father is murdered in the Indies. Her journey back to Europe to seek revenge lands her in disguise as the French chef to a salon hostess—she masquerades as a mustached man with a French accent and the talent to produce marvels of cocoa-based confections. But then a guest—the Prince Regent–is poisoned with the first taste of one of those desserts and the chef is in danger.
Enter a wounded and rough-edged nobleman who boasts both a high position and mixed parentage, making him both insider and outsider in London’s Byzantine social strata. Before he became a decorated soldier, Lord Saybrook studied botany and his rare expertise in all matters concerning chocolate gets him assigned to sort out the attempted murder. Arianna’s disguise has fooled everyone else but it takes almost no time for Saybrook to see through it. As her quest to find and kill her father’s killers and Saybrook’s mission to solve the crime intersect, lethal plots swirl around them.
Arianna is set up as a wealthy widow in fashionable silks and a fine townhouse at Saybrook’s expense and she begins to stalk her prey at the most elegant fêtes in London. Saybrook hides most of what he suspects about a web of international trade intrigue from Arianna. There is no trust lost between them, a situation that leads to some disastrous consequences. Both of them have at each other in verbal duels in which neither side is willing to cede a centimeter of advantage. The rich environs of Regency society provide a sharp contrast to the seedier parts of town and remote reaches of the Empire. Events are harrowing and every chapter opens with a dollop of chocolate trivia and a mouthwatering recipe, courtesy of Lord Saybrook’s grandmother’s journal. Do not read this book if you are on a diet, thinking about a diet or in any way susceptible to the lure of chocolate in any form. All forms are presented and each mention is more irresistible than the last.
Andrea Penrose has a winning combination in this mystery format. The sweet tidbits offset the verbal sparring and the malevolent threats. The pace produces suitable tension and the characters are more than spirited and agreeably intelligent. The puzzles are composed of real pieces of history, and lots of real chocolate lore, and seem entirely plausible. Loved it, loved the chocolate, will content myself with making some Chocolate Chipotle Shortbread while I wait impatiently for the next Lady Arianna adventure.
Sweet Revenge: A Lady Arianna Regency Mystery (Lady Arianna Hadley Mystery) Andrea Penrose | Obsidian 2011
See related post: The Cocoa Conspiracy