Royal Blood (A Royal Spyness Mystery)
by Rhys Bowen
Review by Carter Jefferson
Berkley Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425234464
Date: 07 September 2010 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
If you're looking for police procedurals that feature hard-boiled recovering alcoholics out to get the bad guys, Rhys Bowen is not for you. But her heroine is a joy to follow, even if Lady Georgianna might do well in a Wodehouse novel and could indeed use a Jeeves to keep her out of trouble. But she's a lot smarter than Bertie Wooster.
Leaving London's trademark impenetrable fog to travel to a forbidding castle at the top of a mountain in darkest Romania in the middle of spectacular snowstorm is not exactly a lot of fun, especially since she's saddled with a companion, Lady Middlesex, who may be the world's greatest snob and know-it-all. And the companion herself has a companion whose specialty is worrying at all times about the approach of death and doom. Poor as Georgie is, she has no maid to take along, but her beloved Grandad helps her find one--Queenie Hepplewhite, dumb as a post but a good deal more hefty.
Things look better when Georgie's party arrives at the castle. The princess to be married is Matty, an old schoolmate who, once a shy and tubby girl nobody even noticed, has blossomed into a gorgeous bride for Prince Nicholas. Welcomed and fussed over by her hostess, Georgie thinks things are looking up.
But what's Transylvania without a vampire or six? Belinda, Georgie's dearest friend in London, is a fun-loving type who before she left teased her about the occult dangers of Dracula's home country, but level-headed Georgie just laughed--she doesn't believe in vampires. Then she opens the window in her cavernous guest bedroom to get a little fresh air, only to discover a man wearing a cape climbing up the side of the castle. Figuring nobody would believe her, she doesn't mention this little contretemps to the other guests.
From then on, however, she feels as if somebody is following her everywhere she goes. Moreover, the prince she scorned is right there with the rest of the guests; his sister is the bride. He's sure Georgie has changed her mind, and she can't avoid him anymore than she can her mysterious follower.
While prenuptial festivities go on, Queenie the maid turns out to be hopeless, so Georgie has to help her more than she helps her mistress. Among the guests is Field Marshal Pirin of Bulgaria, who has to be treated well because he comes from a province that could well secede if he gave it permission. He is, however, "a peasant," who doesn't fit in well with the noble guests, so everybody tiptoes around trying to keep him happy. That is, until at dinner his head falls into his plate and he's carried out of the room unconscious. Actually, he's dead, but if they don't keep that quiet the wedding will have to be postponed.
Georgie, who sat across from the Marshal when he dropped, quickly gets involved in the conspiracy to hide the truth and find the murderer. Meanwhile she's seen a mysterious interloper out of the corner of her eye enough to begin to believe the castle is fully equipped with vampires, even though she's still sure no such thing exists.
Through all these goings-on, Bowen is educating readers who may have trouble believing what she shows about the class structure of Europe in the 1930s. It's less like satire than a shotgun discharging both barrels, but it sounds authentic all the way. Yet some of her characters, and a good many who are important haven't even been mentioned here, are pleasantly decent, and Bowen brings them all to life. To some the mystery that must be solved will seem picayune compared to the pictures Bowen paints, but this novel is well worth reading for its humor and the superb writing that tells the story. She also manages in her subtle way to make great fun of the vampire craze now sweeping the literary terrain.
Bowen undoubtedly deserved her Agatha for her Murphy's Law, and readers won't be surprised if this book, the fourth in her Lady Georgianna series, wins another.