The Serpent and the Scorpion

The Serpent and the Scorpion by Clare Langley-Hawthorne. Repeating her formula from the first book in the Ursula Marlow series, Langley-Hawthorne manages to bury an interesting mystery under a cloyingly melodramatic Edwardian romance. While in Egypt negotiating business deals, our heroine witnesses the murder of a close friend in a Cairo marketplace. Soon after, another young woman is found dead after a fire destroys one of Ursula’s factories. As the authorities seem reluctant to vigorously pursue either case, Ursula attempts investigations of her own. Several characters return from the first book, Consequences of Sin, most prominently Lord Wrotham, trustee of Ursula’s inheritance and the man she hopelessly longs for but refuses to marry because she wants to prove herself a modern, independent woman. The mystery itself is once again pretty good, with a few surprises, and Ursula’s character does sometimes demonstrate the courage she hopes to develop, but the book is filled with too many passages such as this one:

“She felt sapped of all her strength, small and insignificant compared to the worries that weighed upon her. Lord Wrotham stared straight ahead angrily. She wanted to turn, she wanted to face him and give him the answer he needed, but she couldn’t. The struggle was too great within her. She had to master the effect he had on her, tame the emotions that only became confused and tangled when she was around him.”

There are too many good historical mysteries available to waste any more time on this series, despite its tantalizing cliffhanger of a finish.

I did appreciate the most interesting cover illustration by Scott McKowen, who also did the cover for one edition of the first book.


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