Mary’s Book Review: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

How Excited Was I To Read This Book? 5/5. It popped up as a recommendation during my Maisie Dobbs phase. Just look at the title. It sounded perfect for me!

How Excited Was I After I Read This Book? 5/5. This series turned out to be just my cup of tea! (harhar, I crack myself up sometimes!)

Book Jacket: The Agatha Award winner debuts a 1930s London mystery series, featuring a penniless twenty-something member of the extended royal family.

Her ridiculously long name is Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter to the Duke of Atholt and Rannoch. And she is flat broke. As the thirty-fourth in line for the throne, she has been taught only a few things, among them, the perfect curtsey. But when her brother cuts off her allowance, she leaves Scotland, and her fiance Fish-Face, for London, where she has:

a) worked behind a cosmetics counter-and gotten sacked after five hours
b) started to fall for a quite unsuitable minor royal
c) made some money housekeeping (incognita, of course), and
d) been summoned by the Queen to spy on her playboy son.

Then an arrogant Frenchman, who wants her family’s 800-year-old estate for himself, winds up dead in her bathtub. Now her most important job is to clear her very long family name.

Review: So I believe I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy a good mystery with a female detective-heroine, preferably set between the two World Wars? KThnxBye! This is one of those. The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear is thoughtful and intelligent – Maisie’s character and the mysteries gently unfold before you across each book in the series. Her Royal Spyness on the other hand is a romp, pure and simple. And what a fun romp it is!

That is not to say our heroine, Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, 34th in line to the throne, does not find herself in serious situations: she stumbles across a corpse in a bathtub at the beginning of this mystery. But despite having been educated in Switzerland at a finishing school named Les Oiseaux (how perfect is that?), “Georgie” is smart, capable, and has a sense of the ridiculous that makes you want to be her friend. Her friend Belinda Warburton-Stoke lends her a sense of glamour where necessary and reminds Georgie, and the reader, to have fun.  For all of these reasons, conveyed through Bowen’s lively wit, things never seem too dire. When in doubt, Georgie has an old grandfather, a retired Essex police officer – from the non-royal side of the family, obvs – who keeps things grounded.

Which brings me to my favorite part about these books: the secondary characters. They are wonderful. For starters, Georgie has a ridiculous brother and a domineering sister-in-law, known as Binky and Fig, respectively. (See what I mean? You want to pick this up already!) She and Binky have one of those relationships where she tries to make him understand what’s going on and he dismisses her cheerfully, all the while referring to her as “Georgie, old thing.” We also meet the Queen, referred to as “HM” throughout the books, and even she is hilarious, partly because of the ways in which she manages to pull the strings of Georgie’s life, even while making infrequent appearances throughout the books.

Her home, Castle Rannoch in Scotland, is its own secondary character. The bathrooms are papered tartan, obviously, with windows that are never shut against the freezing cold. Another supporting actor, Prince Seigfried of Romania, or Fish-Face as we come to know him, is not strictly her betrothed – the jacket is inaccurate in that respect. But he is another ridiculous character. And he comes up in later books! In fact all of these wonderful secondary characters have a delightful habit of reappearing, which I’ve loved. By the fourth book, it’s like coming across an old chum.

As mysteries, the plots in all of these books tie together in satisfying ways. But really what they do is furnish a vehicle to meet these funny characters and join Georgie on her adventures. Having grown up on Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the extreme Britishness of Georgie and of this mystery series – for lack of a better word – feels not only fun but also appropriate to me as a reader. Rhys Bowen has simply lightened the mood. This book and the later works in the series read as though they were fun to write. And I love that.

Unresolved-But-Maybe-Later-Resolved-Sexual-Tension: The Honorable Darcy O’Mara aptly serves as the romantic interest in Georgie’s life. Like Georgie, he is getting by on his wits. Unlike Georgie, he brings a wealth of worldly experience to the table, in addition to his appealing Irish charm. Don’t expect any romantic fireworks just yet, however. He simply lends an added interest to Georgie’s life from time to time.

Bonus for Downtown Abbey Fans: Fig complains about the horrid Americanism “week-end”!

Re-readability: High! I re-read the book to write this review and enjoyed it very much the second time through. The key is that the mystery isn’t really what this book is all about, so it doesn’t matter if you know how it is resolved. Instead, it’s about Georgie going out to find herself in a new and often ridiculous world.

Recommended for: Mystery lovers and those to whom Netflix is always recommending “British Period Dramas with Strong Female Leads.” Not that I ever get that category.

If You Liked This Book You Should Also Check Out: The aforementioned Maise Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. Also the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley, for similar FUN. Rhys Bowen has also written other great series – I particularly enjoy the Molly Murphy books, for reasons that are probably obvious given the proclivities demonstrated in this post!