I bet you didn’t think that you could have fun reading a murder mystery. Seems doubtful, murder being the messy and appalling business that it is. However, Rhys Bowen manages it with Her Royal Spyness (Berkeley Prime Crime 2007), the first in a series of mysteries that I will be reading from now on. I hope she continues to publish one a year because I am going to catch up with a quickness. She really had me at the title. It’s witty, which I appreciate, and it’s about spying, which I love. What’s not to like?
Here are a few of the reasons you’ll enjoy this book about a murder:
1. The dead guy is a bad guy. You won’t like him when you meet him, and you won’t be sad to see him go. He’s so unpleasant that you might actually be relieved he’s gone.
2. Fun tidbits about the British aristocracy, including words that will call you out as common or, if you’re a known peer, slumming. These include “weekend,” “mirror,” and “notepaper.” Make a mental note in case you ever decide to try to pass yourself off as a duchess.
3. Lady Georgiana’s brother goes by Binky. He is the Duke. Duke Binky. Married to the Duchess Fig. Of course, Fig’s given name is Hilda, so she really drew the short straw namewise. Binky is actually Hamish, so he didn’t do much better, but being a Scottish duke, it’s probably some sort of inescapable family name. Binky’s name never ceased to amuse me. My lip quirked up into a little smile EVERY TIME someone mentioned it.
The premise of the story is that if you are a broke aristocrat, you don’t have many options for gaining funds. Unmarried Georgie has no allowance from Binky anymore and is not allowed to work because she’s 34th in line for the throne, and it just isn’t done. She goes undercover with a series of aliases as she works briefly at the cosmetics counter at Harrod’s, disguises herself as a maid, and models dresses for her designer friend Belinda, although this one was just a favor to a friend and did not involve any duplicity. She also tackles basic household duties like learning to light a fire, making tea, and dressing herself without the aid of a maid, all the while hiding her poverty from Her Maj, who will banish her to the countryside to wait on an elderly spinster princess to keep her from embarrassing the family by working for a living if she finds out. Georgie throws herself into problem-solving with good grace and humor, which is refreshing, because others in her position may have gone in a downward depressive spiral, and their murder mysteries wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to read.
Honestly, the mystery bit isn’t the reason to read this book – it’s pretty standard, and avid mystery readers will probably pick up on who the killer is early on. It’s just the mechanism that allows us the fun of spending time with Georgie and her friends, most of which are a delightful bunch. They gate-crash weddings, go on yacht rides with rich South Americans, throw fancy dress parties, and speak atrocious French when they think the help can hear them. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it would be like to be a twenty-something British peer in the thirties, pick this series up and live vicariously.