Title: Her Royal Spyness
Author: Rhys Bowen
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime [originally published 2007, this edition 2008]
No. of Pages: 324
Set in Britain in 1932 this is the first book in a new historical cosy series from Rhys Bowen who is already well known for the Molly Murphy series and the Evan Evans books. This one features Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, better known as Georgie, a penniless but impeccably credentialed young woman who is 34th in line for the throne. When her half-brother and his austere wife try to set her up to marry a frightful foreign Prince Georgie sets off from family home in Scotland to live in London on her own. There she’s faced with the prospect of becoming a lady-in-waiting to a dreary old dowager but instead starts a new career as a domestic. She’s also asked by the Queen to do some spying on her behalf and becomes embroiled in a murder investigation when a man claiming to have won her father’s estate in a gambling debt is found dead in the bath.
Lady Georgie is hard to dislike. She’s fun, funny and not afraid of a little hard work. Her observations about her fellow members of the aristocracy, many of whom lack Georgie’s spirit, show a world that’s undergoing significant change which is interesting to ponder and feels quite realistic. The inclusion of numerous real historical figures and events among the fictionalised ones, for example the burgeoning relationship between a young Prince and an American socialite called Wallis Simpson, add to the authentic feel of the story. It’s not that the book reads like fact, just that it has a more realistic tone than some cosies. There are loads of other enjoyable characters too: Georgie’s Cockney grandfather, her party-loving school chum Belinda and a host of thoroughly British aristocrats (where else would grown men willingly answer to names like Binky and Whiffy?) all make the book enjoyable.
The plot is a little slow to get going although that is forgivable as some context establishment is necessary to make the idea of an un-chaperoned young woman of royal lineage living alone in London even vaguely credible. Once all that has been done the story does flow more quickly and I found myself wanting to knock the whole book off in an afternoon which is something I rarely do unless there is housework to avoid. More important than the speed is the fact that the story is consistent with itself and the resolution is entirely plausible within the world that Bowen has established.
I’ve not read any of Bowen’s other books so I’ve no clue how this one compares but it did remind me of the Sarah Kelling mysteries written by Charlotte MacLeod which feature the adventures of an impoverished young Boston woman of upper crust breeding. If you’re not a fan of light ‘cosy’ books then this one won’t interest you at all, but if you do like the genre then I think it’s an above average example. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, is delightfully written and achieves exactly what it sets out to do: entertain.
My rating 4/5
Reviewed by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise (who loaned me the book to read, thanks Kerrie)
The second book in this series, A Royal Pain, was released in July 2008.