Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Spy Among Them

Tonight, for your reading pleasure, I present a cozy mystery: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen.  The book is the first in a series that I've been eyeing for some time and will likely continue reading. I say likely, because parts of this novel left me feeling rather "meh," while others had me frantically flipping pages. Overall, it was a bit of a mixed bag for me. That being said, I'd still call this a good book. Given the current obsession with all things British upper class (The King's Speech, Downton Abbey, Kate Middleton), I think that this book should be gobbled up by my fellow Anglophiles.

The Basics
Bowen, Rhys. Her Royal Spyness. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2007. Print.

Hailing from Bath, England, Rhys Bowen is an Agatha and Anthony Award-winning author of several mystery series, including the popular Molly Murphy series.  She began her writing career authoring children's and young adult novels under her married name, Janet Quin-Harkin, but eventually adopted her grandfather's name as a pseudonym to write mysteries.

Her Royal Spyness introduces heroine Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, Georgie for short, a somewhat clumsy and cash strapped member of the royal family (34th in line to the throne, so don't get too excited). Set between wars, in 1930s England, the book has a great historical feel. In her debut, Georgie must negotiate her social life, dust her way into financial success, and dodge the Queen's attempts to set her up with a cod-faced European prince.  Oh, and there's a body in the bathtub and a bumbling incarcerated brother to deal with while she's at it. She's a busy girl.

The Book
As usual, I'll get the parts I didn't like over with first.  I really only have one complaint, but it's a big one: pacing. My God, does this book ever have a slow start. Don't get me wrong. It's cute. You get oodles of character from Lady Georgie and a great glimpse into upper class England. While that's perfectly enjoyable, I also expect a little plot to go along with it.  Cute just isn't enough. The body doesn't show up until page 143, and that's nearly halfway through the book.  It took me two weeks to get through this book, when my average read time is two days (and it's no where near complex enough to merit that sort of attention).  I had to drag myself through the first half of the book.

That being said, I still enjoyed the first part of the book, just not in my normal page devouring sense.  Georgie is a delightful character, full of spunk and wit.  She had me laughing out loud from page one with her sarcastic outlook on her fellow upper class denizens.  There's a light satirization that cozies up to the book's celebration of the British gentry. And I ate it up. Even without her sense of humor, Georgie would be charming.  She's highly intelligent and resourceful, starting a maid service to provide herself with income while simultaneously negotiating the expectations of her place in society.

The historical setting of the novel is also engaging.  Rhys Bowen captures 1930s England vividly and in such a way that readers can't help but be drawn in. Bowen firmly situates the fiction within historical fact, drawing on such popular figures as Queen Mary, Wallis and Edward.  I mean, really, given the current popularity of this period such subjects this series is a shoe in for good entertainment.

Best of all, despite what I found to be a slow start, once the body shows up, the novel becomes quick paced.  I couldn't put it down until I'd solved the mystery along with Georgie.  Nor is it too easy to discover the murderer; I did solve it before the Georgie but only just.  Bowen kept me guessing right up until the climax, which added to the suspense and my enjoyment.  I was so thrilled with the conclusion that it more than made up for my difficulty in getting into the book in the beginning.  And, I think that if I was a little more in to the period than I am at the moment (as I hear plenty of people are), even the beginning wouldn't have been a problem. So, overall, it's a great read, well worth the time.

  • So, check out the author's webpage, and while you're there read a more substantial (and interesting) biography.
  • Also check out the Royal Spyness series page to learn more about this amazing set of historical mysteries. This includes an excerpt from the first novel.
  • Rhys Bowen has a blog, delightfully named Rhys's Pieces.
  • Lastly, there's a movie in talks; not much to be seen on Imdb as of yet, but I'll be keeping my eyes peeled.
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