The Hidden Gallery picks up where The Mysterious Howling left off. Ashton Place is still recovering from the misadventures of the Christmas ball, where the three Incorrigible children did a great deal of damage in pursuit of a squirrel that appeared during the festivities. Cassiopeia, the youngest, has adopted the squirrel as a pet and Nutsawoo lives outside the nursery window. For the children, life seems to have returned to normal under the care of Miss Penelope Lumley.
For Lady Constance Ashton, life at Ashton Place is anything but acceptable at the moment. The home’s repairs are not happening swiftly enough and the workmen are far too loud. Her husband, Lord Frederick, is scarcely home as he spends much of his time at his club, preferring hunting and socializing with the other men there. When the racket of the home is too much for Lady Constance, she demands that Penelope call for the constable to arrest the workmen for disturbing her peace.
When Penelope broaches the topic of visiting London to visit Miss Mortimer, her mentor and former teacher, Constance latches onto the idea. The young Lady Ashton declares the entire household shall venture forth the grand city, excited by the opportunities to socialize and shop for she has many friends in London.
Servants are sent ahead to make ready a house that Lord Ashton has rented. Penelope and her three charges are likewise sent ahead of the Lord and Lady by train. It is on the train that first of the book’s mysterious happenings occur when a stranger tries to steal Penelope’s guidebook as she sleeps. The guidebook, one Hixby’s Lavishly Illustrated Guide to London, was a gift from Miss Mortimer. The man claims he merely moving the book to a safe place, but the eldest of the Incorrigible children believes otherwise.
Once away from the train, the children and their governess encounter an old gypsy woman who ominously tells the children that “The hunt is on.” London has Penelope out of her depths to say nothing of their charges. With the help of Simon Harley-Dickinson, a playwright, they eventually find the lavish home where they’ll be staying. Things are far from settled though, for Penelope receives veiled warnings from Miss Mortimer about her safety and that of Alexander, Beowolf, and Cassiopeia. The distasteful Judge Quinzy reappears with too much interest in the children. Simon vanishes, Miss Constance goes postal about the mail post, and Lord Frederick has a very odd health episode that will set readers’ thoughts spinning. To cap off everything is a disastrous episode at a pirate play.
I enjoyed the bit appearances by Mrs. Clarke, who is by turns amused and shocked by the Incorrigibles. There is a declaration near the end of the book by coachman Old Timothy that is most curious for a servant of the Ashtons.
Part-mystery, part Snicket-esque musings, The Hidden Gallery was an amusing read for the middle grade audience. Overall, this was a good second installment in the series and I look forward to reading future books. I’m hoping to see more of Simon Harley-Dickinson and learn more of Agatha Swanburne.