Monday, June 20, 2016

Penelope Tredwell Mystery No. 3 - The Black Crow Conspiracy

Just finished the third (and sadly, what appears to be the final) book in the Penelope Tredwell mystery series, The Black Crow Conspiracy.  Once again, Christopher Edge weaves an intricate tale of glowing ghosts who walk through walls, international intrigue, and scientific advancement. And, once again, right at the center of it all is young Penelope Tredwell, who is now sixteen years old and still running the very successful Penny Dreadful magazine.  Only now, with writer's block, she is unable to come up with a new mystery for Montgomery Flinch to terrorize readers.  So, she does the only thing she can do - she creates a contest for story ideas, and that's where the mystery comes into play...

Edge starts the mystery with what appears to be supernatural elements - young men who have a ghastly green glow to them, who are able to somehow walk through walls, doors, or just about anything - and who steal the crown jewels just before King Edward VII's coronation!  And when Penelope finds among her contestant entries a mysteriously unsigned letter that reveals how the jewels were stolen (with an expertly drawn black crow on the page), she finds her latest Flinch thriller.  Only, it hits too close to reality this time, for the police come straight to the offices of the Penny Dreadful to arrest Montgomery Flinch, who they believe has confessed to the crime through the story!  Little do they know this man is nothing more than a facade, an actor by the name of Monty Maples, who couldn't write a story if his life depended on it.

So where does that leave Penelope, particularly when, by proclamation of the King, the Penny Dreadful is to be shut down?

As the tag on the front cover says, crime can really be stranger than fiction.  The mystery of these green ghosts is revealed when Penelope and her cohort, Alfie, trace back all of the appearances of these ghostly men back to The Society for the Advancement of Science, where they discover the most gruesome of all experiments taking place ... experiments funded by the German empire, as Kaiser Wilhelm II is determined to undermine his uncle and take control of the British empire and use his "ghostly" soldiers to do it.

Edge expertly weaves the historical British royals into this story of impending war, and while it gets off to a bit of a slow start, the pace starts to quicken as the tale progresses, and I soon found myself turning page after page, not willing to wait to discover how Penelope, Monty and Alfie (funny how all their names end with the "ee" sound) put a stop to the Kaiser's plot to take control of the British empire.  Edge has Penelope use her quick wits and her keen observation skills (a la Nancy Drew) to deduce what is really going on, and when she is subjected to the physically-altering x-rays of the devious Professor Rontgen, she finds herself able to perform the same ghostly tasks that the Professor's other subjects have done - a power she expertly adapts to and uses to help rescue the British royal family and save the empire!  (Take that, Nancy Drew - when did you ever save an entire empire from being overthrown?)

Unlike the second book in the series, there is a bit of character development here.  Monty shows some gumption when he is faced with the do or die situation of standing up to the Kaiser and his men.  And while Alfie's love for Penelope remains unspoken, there are several incidents in the book that clearly show just how deep his affections run.  And then there's Penelope herself, who finally gets the recognition she so rightfully earns when Montgomery Flinch and his horrifying stories are finally laid to rest, and the Penny Dreadful (once re-opened by order of the King) begins presenting new tales of "The Lady Investigates," thrilling tales of mystery and detection written by none other than ... Penelope Tredwell!

I am definitely saddened to know that the series has ended with this third novel, but it definitely provides a satisfying conclusion (although, it would have been nice to see Penelope recognize the affection Alfie has for her).  There are far too few mystery series for young adults on the market today that have writing as rich and plots as intricate as this.  Who knows?  Maybe Penelope Tredwell will rise again one day...

RATING:  8 radiant boys out of 10 for closing out this series with a highly satisfying read.

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