Andrea Penrose is a USA Today, bestselling author of Regency era historical fiction, including the acclaimed Wrexford and Sloane mystery series.
Andrea is published internationally in ten languages. She’s a three time Rita award finalist and is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including two Daphne du Maurier awards for Historical Mystery.
Hi there. I’m your host, Jenny Wheeler and today on Binge Reading, Andrea talks about Murder At The Merton Library, # 7 in her best-selling Wrexford and Sloane series.
Responding to an urgent plea from a troubled family friend, the Earl of Wrexford journeys to Oxford, only to find the reclusive university librarian has been murdered and a rare manuscript has gone missing.
In the words of one reviewer, it’s another of Andrea’s “well-thought-out mysteries with early forensic science, great details of the era, and a slow burning attraction that creates a compulsive read.”
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Link to items mentioned in this episode
Sir John Soanes Regency townhouse: https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/sir-john-soanes-house-a-slice-of-regency-london/
The Splendid and the Vile by Eric Larson
Allison Montclair, and the Bainbridge Sparks series
C.S. Harris, the Sebastian St Cyr Regency mysteries
Where to find Andrea Penrose online
Word Wenches blog: https://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/
Introducing Andrea Penrose mystery author
Jenny Wheeler: But now here’s Andrea. Hello there, Andrea, and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Andrea Penrose: Thank you so much for having me here. Jenny. I’m really excited to chat with you.
Jenny Wheeler: You’re a best-selling author of the Wrexford and Sloane Regency Mystery Series and the next one, number seven, I think it’s due to be published next week, isn’t it?
Andrea Penrose: It actually in the U. S. came out last week.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, great. Murder in the Merton Library, – for those who may not quite remember, the Merton Library is one of the most ancient and revered libraries in Britain, at Oxford University. So, you’ve got a great location to start, but you did start out writing romance, didn’t you? How did you get called into doing the mysteries?
Andrea Penrose: I really liked writing romance, but a story really is about the relationship, how the 2 people fall in love, and I found myself more and more interested in developing a greater psychological depth with characters. The idea that a mystery usually will have a series and we’ll have the protagonist, the same protagonist in each book.
You have a chance to develop the characters and plunge into the depths of friendship and vulnerabilities and how they tie in with their friends.
A mystery tests your sense of trust of who you’re working with, who you can believe.
You question yourself about a lot of things. And I felt it gives me a bigger range to develop the characters and really have a little more complexity and the depth.
The story doesn’t just revolve around a love story, even though there can be parts of that. There are definite emotions that develop in my mysteries, but I just feel it gives me a broader canvas on which to paint a story.
A master of the ‘slow burning romance’
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, some of your reviewers have used that phrase, “slow burning romance.”
You have several couples who are taking quite a long time to get to the critical point where they might legitimize their relationship, but some authors complain that once they have legitimized the relationship, it’s then quite hard to maintain the momentum because the romance reader understands, okay, they’ve had the Happy Ever After, what is there left to be excited about?
How do you handle that part of it?
Andrea Penrose: That is a real challenge, I think. I try and think about, okay, now you have a family, you have responsibilities that you didn’t have when you were basically independent and alone.
And I think most of us understand that we know there are transitions like that. I think readers can maybe appreciate that slow burn can still be there, Relationships deepen and they go through bumps in the road, which I try and have.
But I also think developing that sense of how do you adjust to now? Suddenly you put yourself in danger and there are a lot of people who are depending on you and you have to figure out the consequences of that.
And I think we all relate to that as family as you develop, you broaden the family you have. Children become involved and I do have two urchins who are basically have become wards of the Earl and Charlotte. And so, I’m trying to develop some of the complexity of those issues too.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, I love Hawk and Raven. They’re a great addition to the series. Wrexford and Sloane, they’re both extremely individualistic, passionate, and strong characters. Give us a feeling of how they met and tell us a bit about them.
Romance got off to an unpromising start
Andrea Penrose: They really didn’t like each other when they first met. Charlotte is a satirical cartoonist which in Regency times was really like the late night social commentators we have in this country.
It’d be Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah and people like that. But they told the public what was really going on.
They would reveal the scandals in the government or what the rich and famous were misbehaving, or the banks would have financial difficulties.
So they were the people who kept society honest. And Charlotte Is doing a satirical cartoon on Wrexford, because he’s having a feud with a very pious cleric.
And when the cleric is found murdered, he is obviously the prime suspect. Charlotte has seen the murder scene before any of the authorities got there, and she has a feeling he’s not guilty.
She’s seen a few things. He somehow, even though she’s very private, she works under a pen name because a woman could never criticize the government but he manages though. He’s very clever.
He manages to track her down and gives her an ultimatum. She was going to help prove him innocent or he’s going to unmask her. She really feels she has no choice, but she hates him, at first
But they come to respect each other because she’s an artist, he’s a scientist. They both see things.
They observe things very carefully, but they see things in very different ways. He’s all logic. She uses her intuition a lot of time.
They come to have a grudging friendship because they really admire each other’s passion for justice, and admire how they unravel a mystery. It’s very different than how they would do it themselves, but they see that their skills complement each other.
A brilliant scientific mind – and lots of new inventions
Jenny Wheeler: For those people who might like to start at the beginning of the series, that first book called Murder on Black Swan Lane, isn’t it?
So just if people are looking for it, that’s what they need to look for. Each book is keyed around some of the social and scientific developments that are going on around them at the time.
As you’ve mentioned, Wrexford’ has got this brilliant scientific mind. You go into some of that stuff in a great deal of detail. It is fascinating, but for somebody who isn’t a scientist, you think, oh, wow, I’m learning a lot here.
Andrea Penrose: It is ironic because the last formal science class I took was like ninth grade biology, but I actually have become fascinated by science because in doing a lot of reading about the Regency, the scientists and the artists of the time, the poets, the painters, they felt they were kindred souls.
They saw each other as creative, trying to understand the mysteries of the world. They saw beauty; the poets would see beauty in the stars, and so did the people studying the heavens to see how the stars work. It’s really fascinating.
But the other thing I love about it is that it I find such a parallel to our modern times. The Regency really is considered the birth of the modern world and the Industrial Revolution.
Suddenly, there are steam engines, electricity. They’re beginning to understand these phenomena and it’s changing everyday life, disrupting it, and people are frightened.
They’re losing their jobs, like the mill workers. Technology is disrupting their society, and it’s putting pressure on.
And I’m thinking, things don’t change. Here we are feeling much of the same angst with this world that seems to be changing every day.
The tension and excitement of New Industrial Age
While I love Jane Austen and the quiet country house parties, the Regency really has a lot of that tension and excitement.
Things are really changing in all aspects of society. And that really interested me to try and work into my stories because I think readers – they’re escaping to a wonderful time in the past, but I’m showing that they were dealing with many of the same fears and anxieties that we are.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. It’s just terrific. In this book, the Merton Library book, you draw in the international race to get ocean going steamships, which I never really thought about before. And in earlier books, you did one about medical discoveries and what they were getting out of plants.
You also did one about fraudulent trading bonds, both of which have terrific parallels with our own time. The first one is Murder at the Botanic Gardens. That’s the one with the medical discovery and then there’s the trading bonds one, Murder on Queens Landing.
You give a very good picture of what Regency England was like. You say that you got drawn into the Regency period because of your love of Jane Austen. What, as you’ve gone along, do you find you love about it most now?
Andrea Penrose: I just find it incredibly exciting in so many ways. You had music, art, politics, so much of the world they were beginning to see things in very different ways.
Romanticism was developing very much. You had Beethoven writing these incredibly emotional and personal symphonies.
Poetry was becoming more personal. The individual was coming to the fore and feeling, I can really express myself.
A pair of street urchins add intriguing depth
I’m not just a part of a regimented society. People were beginning to press the rules. You had Mary Wollstonecraft writing the first feminist manifestos.
People were finding a voice and saying, ‘Hey I have an opinion about this. And I think we need to change a lot of things in the world.’
I find that a really exciting, to have gone beyond just the balls and the tea parties, which were very much a part of the Regency, but there’s so much more there, too and both darker, dark side and light side, too.
Jenny Wheeler: Sure. Now, introducing Raven and Hawk gave you the opportunity to also delve into the seamier side of London in a way that some of the other Regency books don’t get into. There’s a lot of scenes around the docks and you have. a very strong sense of location. You go into detail about where the warehouse on this particular dock is located.
So you feel as if you’ve walked those streets. And I just wondered if you could live in Regency London, you’d find your way around it pretty successfully, it seems to me.
Andrea Penrose: I really do love going. London is so wonderful to me too. There’s so many small esoteric museums. There’s actually a museum of the Dockland and to go there and they’ve replicated the alleyways and the shops that would be in it. And so, you can learn so much. The Museum of London has, Vauxhall Garden, with little scenes set up.
You really can get a sense -when I go over there – I just walk all through the neighborhoods.
I do research, trying to find what are some of the small museums that maybe one doesn’t tend to hear about? There’s a wonderful science museum there. There’s, of Sir John Soane’s house, where you can actually go in and get a sense of what a Regency townhouse was like.
Authenticity in an old Harvard map
I really do try and see as much as I can about what I want to write about.
Jenny Wheeler: Actually, it sounds to me like you’d be well set up to do one of those books that are the guide to Wrexham and Sloane and go into all the different places.
Andrea Penrose: Right.
Jenny Wheeler: It would probably turn into a very popular tourist guide.
Andrea Penrose: That would be fun. I love research. I love even going online and looking at manuscripts. And I’m very specific, I have a wonderful old map that I’ve bookmarked at Harvard – one of our universities here – in their library. And it is this wonderful, detail.
You can zoom in and literally see alley, the little branches of the alleyways off streets.
So when I decide that Raven and Hawk are going to make a journey, I literally pull up the map and I go, oh, that’s fun. I’ll have them go through Covent Garden and down through Whitehall, and so I have fun doing that.
Jenny Wheeler: And that tactile quality does come across. Charlotte has had a rather unconventional backstory that you’ve fed in as we go along. Now we won’t spoil anything too much, but she’s, at the beginning, socially unacceptable.
Andrea Penrose: She’s on the very fringes of respectability. And yes, I think it’s fun.
I’ve unpacked a lot of Charlotte and in this latest book, Murder at Merton Library, I’m beginning to reveal some of Wrexford’s background and that’s actually going to continue.
I have just turned in Book #8, but no, I’m not going to give any hints, but I find it fun to slowly reveal a little more of their complexities and their depths and what some of their vulnerabilities are.
# 9 in the series coming September 2024
Jenny Wheeler: And do we have a title for that next book yet?
Andrea Penrose: We do, it is called Murder at King’s Crossing.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, great. And that’ll be out probably about a year from now. Will it?
Andrea Penrose: It will be out in September of 24.
Jenny Wheeler: Yeah, that’s great. You also have another Regency series, the Lady Arianna series, tell us a little about that series.
Andrea Penrose: That tends to be a little more action, and political oriented. They do a lot of traveling to solve mysteries. You’ll see them at Waterloo and on Elba before Waterloo. In the first book, there’s a very adversarial relationship with the Minister of State Security.
In other words, the spy master of Britain, who thinks Arianna has come to Britain for nefarious reasons.
And she encounters. the Earl of Saybrook in the course of seeking revenge for her father’s murder, who was a disgraced aristocrat, fled to the West Indies and she and he were exiles, basically.
She grew up in the West Indies. Her father is murdered. She’s 14 or 15 and has to fend for herself. So, she’s had a very rough and tumble growing up.
Her back story is a little rough and she comes back to Britain because she thinks she knows who framed her father and murdered him.
In the course of unraveling that, she meets the Earl of Saybrook, and they solve the murder, she was right in who she guessed and that’s solved, but they have her run in with the spymaster of Britain who was then manipulates them into doing a few other things,
Lady Arianna moves at high diplomatic levels
It’s fun because I get to take them to the Congress of Vienna, which was the big peace conference after Napoleon is first deposed. and then they end up on Elba, Waterloo.
In the last book, they’ve gone to Russia to deal with a problem with the Tsar of Russia. And so, it’s fun to be able to research and do something a little different in that they’re always solving a political problem for Britain.
Jenny Wheeler: Fantastic. How do you face up to the very favorite question for a historical fiction author and that is the balancing fact and fiction.
Andrea Penrose: I try and really stay very close to facts, to what has happened. I try and make sure that I don’t take liberties with, say. the Battle of Waterloo, the ball, the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball.
I’ve really researched all those things, and when I put my fictional characters in there, I usually will have some cameos.
I’ll have Wellington be at the ball and some of the other generals who actually were there. I try and mix that and then, in an author’s note, I will explain the mystery they were solving is fictional they’re after a document or something that, that is purely fiction, but gives them a reason to be in certain places and solve a mystery for the government.
I do try and put an author’s note and let a reader know what is fact and fiction, because I like to know that when I’m reading a book.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, it is fascinating It’s particularly relevant now though, because you have also got another new book coming out and it’s your first move into fictionalized biography.
Andrea Penrose: Yes. But still in Regency times. My publisher had asked me if I’d be interested in doing one, and at first I was really, I wasn’t sure. I thought fictional biography, it seems like such a contradiction in terms. And then I read a few and I understood more about it.
Lady Hester Stanhope – an extraordinary woman
I wrote about Lady Hester Stanhope, who is from a very prominent, incredible family, actually, her uncle and her grandfather were British Prime Minister,s very famous prime ministers of Britain. there are two other prime ministers, there’s a foreign secretary, they’re war heroes.
The intertwine, the Stanhopes, the Grenvilles and the Pitts. They are just an amazing story.
And she just wanted to be at the table with the men and she was smart enough and clever enough, but obviously she was swimming against the tide. She has some very interesting triumphs, but also terrible disasters, simply because she was striving to be someone that society wouldn’t allow and I found her fascinating.
I didn’t think I was going to like her. She’s very sharp and acerbic and sometimes makes decisions that you think are a little impetuous, but she also has her courage and her grit and her resilience, especially her ability to suffer and still have a belief in her dream.
I found that really pretty amazing. I decided to take on the project and it was fascinating. She had three tumultuous love affairs with very famous men. That was interesting because reading about them as well as her, it’s lucky in that she’s from such a prominent family, a lot of letters, her letters exist, so I could read them and I got a real sense of her.
Her sense of humor, her sharp tongue, she could be very sarcastic, and so that gave me a feel, because I wrote it in first person, I felt it really called for that.
And trying to figure out how she would be relating to some of these things that happened to her was interesting. I hope I have done her justice.
But it was a story that was better than any novelist could make up, really, her real life story. I found a wonderful scholarly biography on her.
The Diamond of London – fictional biography
I tried to stay absolutely as close. to her real life as I could, in terms of dates and in terms of who she was with.
It was very easy to know where she was and who she was interacting with in real life. So that gave a framework. And then I just tried emotionally to capture what I thought she would be feeling at these times.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, so that one’s called The Diamond Of London and when is that actually going to be published?
Andrea Penrose: It’s a February book. It comes out at the end of January. It releases in this country. It’s for pre order and on most every major sites now.
Jenny Wheeler: She ended up managing to engineer quite an amazing role for herself as the hostess for an unmarried uncle who was one of these Prime ministers of Britain, William Pitt the Younger, that you’ve mentioned. And so for a little brief period, she was one of the most important women in London, wasn’t she?
Andrea Penrose: She was absolutely one of the probably the most powerful women in London. The diplomats and all of the politicians knew they had to come through her to have any chance of talking with her uncle, who really respected her opinions on things. The male politicians did come to respect her.
But of course, when her uncle died, and then she had no official position anymore. It was amazing how fast they were no longer her friends. Ahe couldn’t give them anything. And that was sad, true story.
Jenny Wheeler: I guess that’s the way politics works through the ages.
Queen of the Desert dealing with warlords
Andrea Penrose: It does indeed, doesn’t it? And that she wasn’t crushed by that sort of stuff – she was an incredibly strong woman.
And then her whole life is just quite amazing. I only took the early part, her part in Britain, growing up in Britain, because her last love was a British general, and when he died in battle a hero, she felt she had to leave the memories in England.
Her younger brother was badly wounded and was really PTSD when he got back from the war. To help him recuperate she took him to Greece, said let’s explore the Greece and Constantinople and then Palestine.
And she never came back to England. She became the Queen of the Desert. She had her own army. She finally had powser; of all ironies in the Arabic world, she found they didn’t know what to make of her, so they decided she couldn’t really just be a normal woman.
They looked at her as something unique and she actually brokered deals between the warlords, was respected by them. It’s really quite an amazing life.
Jenny Wheeler: Yeah. It sounds like it would actually be great to do a sequel.
Andrea Penrose: I know, though she became pretty bizarre in her later life. I like the part I chose because I think you saw her character really develop and you understood the challenges and the disappointments. It was an incredibly rich and full life, just that segment of her life.
Jenny Wheeler: Talking now about your wider career and particularly your tastes as a reader, we always like to ask our authors about their reading habits because we like to get some recommendations for people about what they might like to read. It’s more your personal leisure reading and what people might like to read for pleasure.
Have you got any recommendations?
What Andrea Penrose in reading now
Andrea Penrose: I am an avid reader. Boy, where do I even start? I read a lot of non-fiction that I find fascinating, something like The Splendid and the Vile by Eric Larson on Churchill.
But, in terms of mystery I love Allison Montclair, who does the Bainbridge Sparks series, which is set just after World War II in London.
The two characters, Sparks and Bainbridge are just wonderful. One is an aristocratic woman who’s had a nervous breakdown because of her beloved husband was killed in the war, and the other is a gritty MI6 spy, and they’re totally different.
One is a bit naive about the real world, and the other is this gritty and it’s marvelous.
I think it’s just a fabulous series. I’m also a big fan of the Sebastian St Cyr Regency mysteries by C. S. Harris.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, yes, yeah.
Andrea Penrose: I think he’s just a marvellous character and she does really interesting themes. It gets into the grittier side of the Regency as well. It’s just it’s so hard to name everything that I enjoy reading.
Jenny Wheeler: Yeah, but those are a couple of great ones. I hadn’t heard of Alison Montclair, I must say.
Andrea Penrose: It’s no secret to reveal that Allison Moncler is actually a man, and which I found absolutely fascinating too.
I have met him at a few conferences, he’s absolutely delightful, but I love that he writes to women incredibly well, I really highly recommend it.
I think he started as a playwright, too. He’s a fascinating guy, but so anyone who hasn’t, I highly recommend trying that series.
Andrea Penrose and bottling success
Jenny Wheeler: Great. Look, you’re published internationally in 10 languages. You’re a three time Rita Award finalist and you’ve received many awards, including two Daphne du Maurier awards for historical mystery.
What would you consider to be the quotes “secret of your success” as a writer?
Andrea Penrose: If we had any secrets for success, we would bottle them. I think I’ve just persevered.
Trust me, this business, you have your ups and downs. You really have to never take success, and think ‘oh this is easy. This is always going to be this way.’ We’ve all had ups and downs.
And I think. The key, I don’t know, for me is I just I love writing and I know what stories are in my head and I have fun writing them and I’m thrilled even when readers seem to enjoy them too.
Jenny Wheeler: Yeah, that’s great.
Andrea Penrose: I think you have to just trust yourself and write what you love to write.
Jenny Wheeler: Yeah. Looking back down the tunnel of time of your creative career, if there was one thing you could change, what would it be?
Andrea Penrose: I think I might have moved into mystery a little earlier. I think there was a time where everyone said, “Oh, no, you just have to be writing. Romance is the hot thing.” And it’s true. Things go in cycles, but I think I always knew inside. Boy, I want to do something a little different.
And, I think it would have been fun to maybe get into it a little earlier.
Jenny Wheeler: Because you did write romance under a couple of other pen names, didn’t you?
Andrea Penrose: Yes, I did. And that’s, don’t even ask. Publishers. It’s all publishing decisions. You go to one publisher, then you go to another one, they’d want to do a different name. Yeah.
What is next for Andrea Penrose author
Jenny Wheeler: What is next for Andrea as author over the next 12 months? What have you got on your desk? I have another Wrexford one to start. Book #9 will be starting shortly and I have an idea for Lady Arianna to be set in Greece, which I’m looking forward to.
And I won’t give any spoilers, but so I hope to have. another Lady Arianna outlet next by summer, let’s say, and then there’ll be another Wrexford Sloane in fall.
Jenny Wheeler: I have seen on your Goodreads page that readers have been asking questions like, is there another Lady Arianna coming?
Andrea Penrose: I know it. It’s just because I had to put the Lady Hester book in between two existing deadlines. So the last year was just non stop. Coming up for air was difficult.
So I just didn’t have a chance to do a Lady Arianna as well. I’m looking forward to getting her back in the action.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you enjoy interacting with your readers and where can they find you online?
Andrea Penrose: I do. I have an artistic background, so Instagram is really my favorite social media. I do have a Facebook page. I’m not as active as a lot of people, but I do Instagram and that’s Andrea Penrose books is my Instagram and my website.
I have a section I call Diversions where I give a lot of little tidbits on the history in each book, and I do a little essay and a slideshow, so if you want to see what the Royal Botanic Gardens look like, I have a little history on the gardens themselves and a slideshow, and I do that with a lot of the elements that are in my book and that’s just andreapenrose.com and you can go and have some fun exploring. Yep.
Jenny Wheeler: Sounds fun. And also I see that you contribute to a blog called Word Wenches. What’s that about?
Word Wenches – one of longest running author blogs
Andrea Penrose: Those are, there are 7 of us historical authors Mary Jo Putney, Patricia Rice, Nicola Cornick, Anne Gracie, Susan King and Christina Courtenay, and we have a lot of fun.
We’ve all become very close friends, even though we are literally around the world.
We chat with each other most every day, and so it’s a fun thing, and the blog is, I think, A lot of fun as well. I think we’re the longest running blog of authors. We’ve been around now for about 14 or 15 years doing
Jenny Wheeler: We’ll put all of those links in the show notes so people can find them if they’re interested in taking that further. Look, it’s been great talking, Andrea.
It really has. Just as much fun as I anticipated it was going to be. So thank you so much for your time.
Andrea Penrose: Thank you so much. This was great fun.
Jenny Wheeler: Thanks so much.
Andrea Penrose: thank you again. This is great.
If you enjoyed Andrea Penrose you might also enjoy… Julie McElwain’s Time Travel Stories
Julie McElwain’s time travel mystery series featuring FBI profiler Kendra Donovan set in 1815 London has been described as ‘Jane Austen meets the Alias TV series.’ She’s made top sci fi and mystery lists every year since the series was launched, with ‘Most addictive mystery” one of the accolades.
Julie McElwain was first on The Joys of Binge Reading back in in 2018 with her first book in the Kendra Donovan time travel series Murder in Time about an FBI agent who travels back to Regency England. . She’s back today with book # 5, Shadows In Time and a series that is going from strength to strength – now optioned for TV.
Next week on Binge Reading
Next week on Binge Reading, internationally published Kiwi author, Fiona Sussman, and The Doctor’s Wife, a psychological thriller of a close friendship shattered by illness and unexpected death.
Nothing in Stan Andino’s unremarkable life could prepare him for the day he discovers his wife in the living room, naked except for a black apron, bleaching out a stain in the carpet that only she can see.
Terrifyingly believable, The Doctor’s Wife is shortlisted for New Zealand’s national mystery awards, the Ngaio Marsh Mystery Awards to be decided in late November.
That’s it for today. But do remember just before I go, if you enjoyed the show, leave us a review so others will find us too.
See you next time and Happy Reading.