What to Read this Winter
Are you stuck at home on a cold and rainy day and want to curl up with a good book?An Ominous Explosion by Lynn Messina--Regency Mystery/Romance
Thank you NetGalley for the advanced reading copy. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and not affected by the giveaway.
When Aunt Vera offers to accompany the Dowager Duchess of Kesgrave to the Duke's uncle's funeral, Bea is shocked. Of course Vera asks Bea to look in on the family to make sure they're not doing anything she doesn't approve of and to make sure the dining room isn't overcome by mold. Bea finds her uncle and cousins heading for an outing to view a steam engine demonstration. Bea knows Aunt Vera wouldn't approve but Uncle Horace insists he's just looking and not investing and would Bea like to join them? Bea hesitates until Uncle Horace tells her that her mother was interested in and invested in steam engines. Naturally Bea must go. The demonstration is crowded with people eager to see Peter Huzza's new high pressure steam engine. No one is prepared for an explosion that sends Bea off into a trance contemplating life as a Sphinx. By the time she arrives home, with her hearing restored, she's pondering what caused the explosion and what happened to poor Mr. Huzza who was tending the furnace. If only she could have gotten a look at the remains of the engine. Oh wait, she's a Duchess and her beloved husband opens doors, in this case quite literally as they enter into a new investigation together. Bea is certain someone sabotaged the engine and murdered Mr. Huzza. Damien is certain whoever it was is going to come after his precious wife! If only he would buy her a pair of boots she could run more efficiently!
I love this series but the charm has worn off now Bea and Damien are married. I liked it better when shy spinster Bea came up with madcap schemes and the Duke of Kesgrave was so besotted, he fell in line with whatever she planned. Now everyone knows her propensity for fancying herself a Lady Runner. Damien wishes she would NOT investigate murders and wants to keep her safe. He tags along on her investigation this time mainly to keep her safe.
The plot is not the most interesting. I worked at a mill museum that had a steam engine in Bea's time- as a backup power source for the water wheel and later as the main power source. I read the Poldark stories so I got the history of steam engines from Winston Graham. Steam engines don't interest me that much. This story would have bored me to tears before I took the job at the museum and learned about the hometown ironworker turned inventor who owned it. This story may not be the most popular one of the series. There's just too much history dumped on the reader even if it comes from the characters. The mystery has very few suspects but I still never guessed who, if anyone, sabotaged the engine. It sure sounded to me like the typical overfed engine that will blow up on boats and trains all the time later in the century but of course Bea is correct as always. I was starting to find her technique a little annoying as she went around accusing people of murder willy nilly without proof. She acknowledges her usual technique and everyone knows about it LOL! This novel didn't have that edge of your seat feeling. I was able to put it down and go to sleep and pick it up again the next morning.
Bea has really come into her own. She's almost overconfident now and acknowledges that. After only 6 weeks of marriage and 6 months of investigating murders, she's become notorious and her success has somewhat gone to her head. She's less in her head, less insecure now. Bea is super observant and sharp. She sees things no one else sees or that a murderer doesn't want seen. Her instincts are sound even if she doesn't have proof. Because she's been nearly killed so many times, now she's taking fencing lessons. She longs for a pair of leather boots from Hoby so she can run more easily but even her husband draws the line asking his bootmaker for a pair. Hoby would expire on the spot! This desire is the source of some of the witty banter between Bea and her beloved husband. Damien is still swoony. He does try to distract Bea with sex, which normally I hate, but it doesn't work with her and he knows it doesn't work but he loves her and wants her to be safe and if he can distract her and please her with someone ELSE she enjoys, all the better. (All off page of course). He will give Bea anything she desires - aside from a pair of Hoby boots. Damien is also a loving grandson. Bea helps him understand how his grandmother is feeling and how best to deal with her. Damien's instinct is to protect those he loves by worrying and wrapping them in cotton wool. Bea knows the Dowager still feels independent in spite of her great age and minor infirmities. She doesn't need him to smother her with worry just yet. I can see why the Dowager reacts badly to his worry and I would feel the same way but I know she loves her grandson. She shows it by her approval of Bea and everything Bea does.
Aunt Vera is still unintelligent and unable to handle the change in her niece's situation without nearly fainting but she's trying to make amends, or so the Duke thinks anyway. I think Aunt Vera is much kinder than Aunt Petunia Dursley but she did treat Bea pretty much the same way as Aunt Petunia treated Harry Potter. Aunt Vera can't really openly admit her mistakes based on misassumptions and to be fair, why wouldn't she believe the stories she was told? She wasn't there when Bea's parents died, she wasn't close to them to know about Bea's mother's activities. She only knows the morals she was brought up with and Bea's mother didn't fit the mold. Aunt Vera also knows how cruel the world can be to a young lady of unconventional parents. She did her best and she's trying to please her niece and nephew-in-law now. Uncle Horace seems indifferent to his wife's nagging but he's really not. He knows how much his marriage is worth and isn't about to rock the boat. He cared deeply for his only brother and is trying to make up for lost time with Bea. Flora manages not to be super annoying. She misses her beau and fights with her brother. Russell, on the other hand, really mans up! He's becoming a man and when his mother isn't around he actually acts like one. I feel bad for him now. He's trying to be a young gentleman of the ton and spread his wings. I really appreciate him more now and I think Bea does too.
The mystery involves a new high pressure steam engine invented by Mr. Peter Huzza. He builds on the concept of Trevithick's steam carriage that had exploded when the valve was left on. This engine has a melting valve that will disintegrate if the boiler gets too hot. It has a carriage that runs on tracks with gears which he envisions bringing people to the seaside (a tram, a sort of early train). I can picture the engine because of the museum I worked at but I'm not sure others will be able to. Mr. Huzza is very eager to show off his invention and play to the crowd. He's kind of a show off and even goes so far as to feed his own engine with coal while wearing white clothes. The more he plays to the crowd, the more excited people will be and will invest in his invention, I guess. He seems kind of egotistical though. Still, he doesn't deserve to be blown to smithereens. Did he make a mistake and put in too much coal? It seems unlikely because he was feeding it by hand without gloves so that limits how much coal one can place in the boiler at any given time. DID someone deliberately kill Huzza? It seems risky because there was no way of knowing he would be feeding the boiler and no way of knowing if he would be in the boiler hut at the time it exploded.
The Hyde-Clares make the acquaintance of a Mr. Grimes, a macaroni who loves steam engines and is eager to invest in one for his mill. Yet he strongly discourages everyone from investing. Could it be he wants all the shares for himself? Or is there something else going on? I think he's a paid spokesperson. He's a little too enthusiastic and discouraging people will only make them want to invest more. Reverse psychology?
Leopold Lynch, a manufacturer and partner in Huzza's business surely has no reason to kill his partner. They stand to make a fortune on the new invention. With it gone and people afraid of steam power once again, he'll lose a lot of money. When Bea and Damien show up, indeed he thinks they are creditors come to ruin him. He's also extremely drunk. I don't think he's faking it. I think he's upset at losing money and less upset at losing his partner but then some clues do point in his direction. Martin Rhodes also helped with the design of the engine. He made the valve plug and is highly regarded by both Huzza and Lynch. He too is very drunk when Bea and Damien come to ask questions. He seems sincerely upset and blames himself for Huzza's death. How awful! I don't think he has it in him to murder someone.
It was DEFINATELY the lying liar Garfield/Garrow. He lies about his name, his identity-everything. A middle class businessman, he works for a rival steam company, one that uses low pressure steam. Low pressure steam is deemed safer and his firm stands to make a bundle off the misfortune of Huzza if they play their cards right. He seems sleazy and feeds false information to the press to enhance his own business interests. Mr. Tarwich, his younger business partner, is the public face of the company. He doesn't seem to know much about anything. Mr. Tarwich seems nice enough but he could be in league with Garrow to sink another man's business to build their own. I think one or both men were involved in the murder. What about their clerk, Mr. Heath, is he involved? He seems passionate about the company and eager to please. He's dedicated to his work. But... he was in the army and he would know how to make a bomb! He has a powerful motive- to help his employers. I don't want it to be him. He seems nice and has a large family to feed. That would be terrible for them if Mr. Heath was a murderer.
Or was it Waugh? He's a shrewd businessman who lives to make money. He claims he just wants to develop properties and he doesn't seem interested in steam power at all. Is he lying? Mr. Waugh certainly seems ruthless enough to stop at nothing to get what he wants. Mr. Huzza's heirs were the widows and orphans of soldiers killed in the war. Would the board of governors murdered their benefactor to get their hands on the money sooner before he changed his mind? Oh Bea! This makes no sense. Why would they do that when they could potentially inherit MORE money later on down the line? If Huzza dies with the engine, what money does he have left to leave?
A more likely suspect is Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Flexmore. He works for the military ensuring supplies get to where they need to go on time. He's very rude and keeps issuing the Regency version of "no comment" but his comments give Damien enough information to realize they've stumbled across the truth. The questions he won't answer is whether he sabotaged the engine. He had the means and opportunity but what about motive? This guy is a piece of work and he threatens Bea so he must be a villain! It must be a personal motive against Huzza.
Which one is the real murderer and why? Or does Bea see murder everywhere and it was really just a tragic accident?
This book needs a historical note for those who are unaware of the history of steam engines.
Richard Trevithick Tragedy at Greenwich
May 3 1830: Robert Stephenson's Invicta powers the first regular passenger service in the world, linking Canterbury to the seaside town of Whitstable six miles away.
One typo: Madam instead of Madame and one anachronism: Hello was not used until the telephone. And stealing business information may be done "all the time" but it was illegal in Britain or else the American Industrial Revolution would never have gotten started in 1793!