The Cocoa Conspiracy
Andrea Penrose

ISBN-13: 978-0451235312
Publisher: Penguin Group
Line: Signet
Release Date: Dec 6, 2011
Pages: 336
Retail Price: 7.99

Genre: Mystery

Chocolate mixed with conspiracy can be a recipe for death...

Lady Arianna Hadley, now the Countess of Saybrook, is setting into married life with her new husband. To celebrate his birthday, she finds the perfect gift: a rare volume of botanical engravings on Theobroma cacao, or chocolate. But she is forced to fight off a stranger who tries to steal it away.

Arianna and Saybrook forget the incident until they attend a gathering on a country estate, where her assailant reappears—as a Russian diplomat. Events grow more ominous when Arianna discovers sensitive government documents hidden in the book's binding—documents that suggest someone Saybrook and she hold dear is a traitor to Kind and country.

Murder, treason, money, power. Once again, Arianna and Saybrook are drawn into a web of intrigue. To unmask the villain, they journey to the Peace Congress in Vienna, where, amid the seductive pomp and pageantry of Europe's royalty, they must root out a cunning conspiracy—armed only with their wits and their expertise in chocolate...


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Recently married Lady Arianna and Alessandro “Sandro” Saybrook attend a party of several foreign diplomats as a favor to Saybrook’s uncle, Charles Mellon. The party begins and Lady Arianna is shocked to see one of the Russian diplomats is the same man who had tried to forcibly take a book of chocolate engravings from her while she was purchasing it for Saybrook. What would make this book so interesting to the Russian and could it be related to a possible traitor in the midst at the peace conference in Vienna?

The Cocoa Conspiracy is an excellent follow-up to the author’s first regency mystery Sweet Revenge. While not quite as charming as the first book in the series, this sequel is still clever with two, strong intelligent main characters who are fearless when on a mission to do the right thing for their loved ones or their country. As in the first book, the manipulative Lord Grentham makes a formidable enemy, even while he is supposed to be on the same side as Arianna and Sandro. Basil Henning, the gruff but compassionate Scottish surgeon, is a loyal friend to both Arianna and Saybrook and an interesting character as well. At the title says, chocolate plays a large part in this mystery as it did in the first. Each chapter begins with a different chocolate recipe and Arianna’s skill at preparing chocolate dishes might hold the solution to her latest dilemma. This book could stand on its own, but the first book helps to provide the background needed to fully appreciate the relationship between the main characters.

While circumstances in the first book made marriage an ideal solution for Arianna and Sandro, their chemistry and obvious affection for each other makes it seem more than just a marriage of convenience. These two unique characters bring out the best in each other, so the best scenes in the book are when Arianna and Saybrook are working together. However, they are both afraid to show the depth of their feelings because of events in their past. While it’s understandable the two would hold back, it can be frustrating. Saybrook seems to be becoming more confident confiding in Arianna, so hopefully it’s just a matter of time before can tell Saybrook her true feelings and also no longer feel the need to go behind his back with some of her schemes.

While this is a very good book, the beginning has too much emphasis on history and not enough action related to the current mystery being tackled by Arianna and Saybrook. The background is necessary to understand the intricate plot, but all of the rich historical details definitely slow the pace of the story. Thankfully, once the couple arrive in Vienna, the level of intrigue increases and the book becomes much more fun to read. The story becomes a little unbelievable at the end, but Arianna and Saybrook once again prove they have what it takes to solve complex puzzles, while falling a little more in love as they go. Although The Cocoa Conspiracy is lacking some of the romance of the prior installment, it is still a well-written historical novel to savor with likeable characters and a unique plot that stands out from other mysteries.

Reviewed by Christine