Tag Archives: The Cocoa Conspiracy

Sweet Revenge – Andrea Penrose

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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

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The Cocoa Conspiracy – Andrea Penrose

Click to buy from Amazon


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