Andrea PenroseJan 23, 2024
The Diamond of London
Kensington Books 2023
I’ve interviewed Andrea Penrose before about her mysteries set in the Regency period—most notably, her ongoing series starring the Earl of Wrexford and Lady Charlotte Sloane. In this latest novel, she takes a break from dead bodies and the complicated plots associated with them to tackle a real-life question: how did a supposedly sheltered nineteenth-century aristocrat defy all of society’s expectations that she marry to suit her family and instead craft a life that suited herself?
The titular Diamond of this fictional biography is Lady Hester Stanhope, tagged even today with adjectives such as “notorious” and “eccentric.” After her politically radical and mentally unstable father threatens her with a knife, Lady Hester flees her country estate for London. There—with the help of the noted dandy Beau Brummell during a previous visit—she has already acquired a reputation as outspoken, passionate, and “different.” At twenty-four, she is also regarded as almost too old to wed, but her ties to the politically powerful Pitt family, which boasts two prime ministers among its ranks, mean that she is still a “catch” for men of ambition.
Lady Hester wants none of it. She’d rather dress in men’s clothes and sneak out to prize fights with her cousin Camelford, known to society as the “Half-Mad Lord,” or ride hell-for-leather across the moors. And so the stage is set for what will become, over the course of the book, a spectacular and wholly unconventional life.
Penrose’s decision to focus on Lady Hester’s time in England, rather than her later and better-known sojourn abroad, makes sense in dramatic terms because that’s where the character change happens. And the author does a wonderful job of balancing the demands of history against the requirements for a good novel. Lady Hester is herself a diamond: brilliant and multifaceted, but also cutting and razor-sharp. Although not always likable, she is unforgettable—just as she must have been in real life. I rooted for her all the way, even when I wanted to shake her and say, “Are you nuts? Why would you do that?!”
Andrea Penrose is the bestselling author of Regency-era historical fiction, including the acclaimed Wrexford & Sloane mystery series. The Diamond of London (Kensington Books, 2024) is her latest novel.
C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and four other novels. Her latest book—The Merchant’s Tale, co-written with P.K. Adams—appeared in November 2023.