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.
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My rating 3.5/5
Publisher Publishing 
Length 256 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Source I bought it
Title: The Consequences of Sin
Author: Clare Langley-Hawthorne
Publisher: Penguin 
Length: 262 pages
Setting: England and Venezuela, 1910-11
Genre: historical crime fiction
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My rating: 4/5
One-liner: Historically accurate, delightfully complex yarn full of wonderful imagery.
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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).
This book has been reviewd at Books and Musings from Down Under and Bookgirl’s Nightstand