Review: The Serpent and The Scorpion by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Be warned: in order to sensibly discuss this novel I do have to talk about one of the major events that took place in the first book, this is a spoiler if you haven’t yet read the first book.

The second novel to feature wealthy women’s suffrage campaigner and amateur detective Ursula Marlow takes place in 1912, two years after the events depicted in Consequences of Sin. Ursula is still grieving over the loss of her father (who was murdered) and is now struggling with the demands of keeping his considerable business interests afloat given the pervading belief that a woman shouldn’t be involved in business at all and a suffragette is an even less desirable business partner. When she travels to Egypt to work on textile contracts essential for her business she witnesses the murder of a friend of hers and is not convinced it was politically motivated as authorities suggest. Shortly afterwards she learns there has been a fire in a factory she had established near her home which offered work to destitute women and she returns home to ensure the investigation is carried out thoroughly.

The opening of this book provides a little too much detail about events that occurred in the first novel which slows the start down (and would also make it a fairly dull exercise for a new reader to go back and read the first novel if they hadn’t already done so). However the last three quarters of the novel offer a cracking read. The plot is complex but the various links and connections between people and events are logical, and the tension builds well as personal stories play out against the backdrop of world events such as the probable imminence of a war against Germany. There were several big plot twists that I didn’t predict and there was a realism in the fact that not everything was resolved happily.

Although it’s only a backdrop to the main story one of the things I enjoy most about this series is the way Ursula’s struggle to be taken seriously in business and her need to demonstrate she can do things on her own before she considers marrying the man she loves has a very credible feel to it. This book in particular captures a feeling that the women’s suffrage movement was about more than obtaining the right to vote, but was about trying to fight against the pervading attitude that women were not capable or intelligent enough to perform such a task. One interesting social element that shines through here is the way that people who might not normally see eye-to eye or even come into contact socially were drawn together by their support for or opposition towards the movement.

The Serpent and the Scorpion has terrifically drawn characters, absorbing historical details and a rollicking mystery that has personal and political elements for the players. The cliffhanger ending was a bit abrupt but I have to admit it has me hooked into waiting eagerly for the next installment.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5
Publisher Publishing [2010]
ISBN 9781101391815
Length 256 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Source I bought it

2 thoughts on “Review: The Serpent and The Scorpion by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

  1. Bernadette – Oh, now you’ve got me quite interested!! I do enjoy historical fiction, and more so if it focuses on characters and attitudes that are believable and authentic. This one sounds like a good read. You make an interesting point, too, about including information from the first novel. For authors of series, I think there’s always a balance between including enough information to make for some continuity, but not so much information that it weighs too heavily. It’s a very tricky balance…

  2. This sounds interesting. Although I am not normally a reader of historical fiction, the fact that this is about a suffragist and independent woman, and about the movement for the right to vote, as well as a good mystery, will make me take a look at it. Thanks.

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