THE SERPENT AND THE SCORPION, Clare Langley-Hawthorne

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 461 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (September 30, 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003RWSKSC
  • Source: I bought it

Blurb from author’s site:
It’s nearly two years since her father’s death and Ursula Marlow is embroiled in personal and professional struggles. Her relationship with Lord Wrotham has cooled since she rejected his marriage proposal and she continues to fly in the face of society’s conventions as to the appropriate role of a woman in Edwardian England. Now she is besieged on all fronts as she struggles to succeed as an independent businesswoman, despite financial difficulties, labor unrest and arson attacks on on her mills and factories.
While on a business trip to Egypt, Ursula witnesses a friend’s murder in Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili bazaar, and embarks on her own investigation, convinced the Egyptian police and Scotland Yard are mistaken in assuming the death was politically motivated.
Days later a young woman dies in a fire in one of Ursula’s factories in England…..

My take:

This sequel to CONSEQUENCES OF SIN seemed to start off a little slowly, but then there was quite a bit for us to learn. Most of the action is set in 1912, and the author provides several pointers to the period, including the testing of the Bleriot biplane, the sinking of the Titanic, the preparations for war, and descriptions of fashion. There are references also to events from the first novel when Ursula’s friend Winifred was accused of murder. Both Winifred and Ursula are suffragettes participating in the militant activities of the WSPU, particularly the window-smashing that characterised 1912. Ursula too is trying to do her best for women by providing safe employment conditions for women from poor socio-economic circumstances. Interesting too was the preoccupation with the effects of Bolshevism in England.

THE SERPENT AND THE SCORPION is quite long and detailed, but picks up momentum in the last third. The romance element between Ursula and Lord Wrotham is sustained throughout, although I felt his character still remained a bit obscure. I did feel like shaking them both at times!
The ending is a cliff hanger that ensures there will be a 3rd title in the series. We are not out of the woods yet!

My rating: 4.3

About the author:
Clare has some biographical details on her site, but has, since writing them,  returned to live in Australia.
THE SERPENT and THE SCORPION is Clare’s second novel.

Other reviews to check:
Reactions to Reading

The Consequences of Sin, Clare Langley-Hawthorne


Penguin [2007], ISBN: 978-0-14-311293-8, 262 pages

My rating: 4/5, One-liner: Historically accurate, delightfully complex yarn full of wonderful imagery.

In Edwardian England Ursula Marlow is the only daughter of a widowed self-made man. She is woken one morning by a frantic phone call from one of her suffragette friends, Winifred “Freddie” Stanford-Jones, who has discovered her lover dead covered in blood in the bed beside her. Although she doesn’t want to be beholden to him, Ursula calls upon her father’s legal adviser Lord Wrotham to smooth the waters with the Police. Despite this Freddie is soon arrested and as Ursula tries to clear her friend’s name she discovers that the murder of Freddie’s lover may relate to a troubled expedition to Venezuela’s famed Orinoco Delta that her father financed 20 years previously.

I love it when a book surprises me. I was expecting a frothy historical romp and although this book does have its frothy moments there’s also a more melancholic, even sombre, thread that I, perhaps perversely, enjoyed. Also, Ursula is also more complex and credible heroine than I anticipated. She’s not the over-the-top force of nature that Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody is but nor is she an Austen-esque woman constantly being overcome by the vapours. At times she’s a take-charge gal forging ahead regardless of danger but at other points she’s indecisive and clearly scared by unfolding events. This dichotomy is far more realistic than the extremes you often find in fiction and it made Ursula more interesting and the book less predictable than others in this crowded space.

I’m no expert on the period but the historical setting seems to have been captured rather beautifully. There were many details of Edwardian life depicted that demonstrated that the past is indeed a foreign country: one fun to visit but nice to return home from. While exploring in South America a hundred years ago or sailing first-class on the Lusitania (5 years before it sank) might have been great experiences I wouldn’t trade them for being able to vote and look after my own finances.

While I revelled in the details of the explorers of the past and Edwardian life in general there was a solid mystery playing out at decent pace although there weren’t many red herrings or alternative suspects whose guilt I could ponder. The remaining characters other than the two leads played fairly minor roles and but perhaps other characters will participate more fully in future books. The only one here that I struggled with was the policeman (in fact I’m still not sure if he was supposed to be incredibly dumb or vaguely corrupt). However the book was crammed with enough other delights to keep me occupied and I’ll even admit (as long as you promise not to tell anyone else) that I was quite engaged by the romantic element to the story (which was almost entirely lacking in soppiness thank heavens).