This is book three in the Sins of the City series, and it wraps up the thread of mystery that has been running through the previous books. I’m not sure if I can avoid revealing some spoilers from the first two books, and you really need to read the whole series to get full understanding of what is going on. In fact, this one backtracks somewhat to start with, to reveal some of the details from the end of book two. An investigation has been going on to find the missing children of the deceased Earl of Moreton who had married and then abandoned a young woman without divorcing her. She subsequently gave birth to twins, named Repentance and Regret, the male of which is the legal heir to the title. The twins have been unaware of this situation, living their lives as trapeze artists in London under the names of Pen and Greta Starling.
Mark Braglewicz is a private enquiry agent who has become involved in finding the twins after his friends Clem and Nathanial (and their respective lovers) have been targets of someone also trying to find Pen and kill him. He manages to bump into Pen as if by accident, and they end up going for a drink without revealing his true purpose. However, he is immediately captivated by Pen’s appearance – you see, Pen is what we would call trans or non-binary gender now. He’s slender and graceful, he’s got long flowing hair and he isn’t like anyone Mark has met before. Ms Charles has written a very believable character in Pen – he’s got his flaws, but he’s also not afraid of who he is and is fluid in his sexuality, able to wear earrings, face paint and chiffon or a tailored suit when required. He’s also quite sure that he doesn’t want to be the next earl after Mark reveals the situation to him. To do so would mean giving up his identity, to assume a life that would smother his individuality, and he wants Mark to drop the investigation and pretend Pen couldn’t be found.
For his part, Mark is an honest man, who has gone though life with one arm, and is comfortable enough with that disability. He’s had relations with both men and women, but he desires Pen in ways that take him by surprise. He takes Pen to the Jack and Knave, where the rest of gay community there accepts Pen for who he is, and it isn’t long before their attraction turns intimate. These two have amazing chemistry, and while Mark wants to do right by Pen, he’s also aware that there is someone out there who is willing to murder anyone who gets in the way and the case needs to be solved before that happens again. He ends up sending Pen and Greta to Crowmarsh, the estate home for the earl’s family, hoping this will keep Pen safe while the details of the inheritance are dealt with.
Naturally, this isn’t the best solution and Pen has to deal with his uncle Desmond who wants the earldom for himself and thinks Pen is lower than pond scum. It’s also clear that the killer has also managed to find Pen, and Mark has to figure out what’s going on before Pen ends up dead. There’s plenty of twists and red herrings, mixed in with the Victorian era family drama, and it all came to a satisfying conclusion. There was somewhat less romance in this as compared to the first two books, with the mystery being more dominant, but it was still enjoyable and well done. There’s likely so much more I could say about this, but you just have to read the series for yourself! Ms Charles can bring the angst, the drama and the humor together every time, and I highly recommend all of her books. I leave you with this quote that sums up the relationship between Pen and Mark:
“But you want me,” Pen said. “Not me as a man or a woman, or me without the difficult parts. Just me.”
“Just you,” Mark agreed. “All of you. The Pen, the whole Pen, and nothing but the Pen, so help me God.”