Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

I had hoped for a bit more wit and sparkle from this mystery novel, set among British aristocrats in 1932. (Just look at that cover. I can't resist an eye-catching cover like that.)

Unfortunately, Her Royal Spyness was just an average read (so I'll give it a C grade). It was diverting enough when I picked it up in idle moments, but the story didn't leave me in any hurry to get back to it.

Lady Georgiana, one of innumerable royal relatives and 34th in line for the British throne, fears her family intends to marry her off to a tedious, fish-faced foreign prince. She bolts for London, where she intends to make her own way, but without servants, she is left to muddle through tasks such as lighting a boiler and preparing meals. (Baked beans on toast are all she can manage.)

The book didn't really succeed as a mystery. The body of a French gambler appears in Georgie's bath about halfway through, but the novel did not focus on the murder until its final third. Instead, most of the story concerned Georgie's efforts to provide for herself and the endless round of parties among those of her social set.

Georgie decides to do light housecleaning for aristocrats needing their London homes "freshened." Because honest work is considered beneath those of Georgie's class (even those who are penniless) she runs the risk of scandal if she bumps into any of her clients at social events. Bowen played this situation for laughs, but I thought the novel could have been much funnier if the author had viewed her characters with a more satirical, rather than sympathetic, eye. I found it hard to muster up much sympathy for whiny aristocrats with no practical skills or productive ways to spend their time.

The book also featured an utterly typical romance, with Georgie falling for a handsome, not-quite-suitable rogue who might or might not be trouble.

This plot had the necessary elements for an enjoyable social comedy, but without sharp authorial wit, it fell rather flat. Bowen was way too easy on her characters when she should have skewered them. A Royal Spyness was really just another ho-hum story about a plucky, determined heroine living by her wits, with little to distinguish it from other variations on this theme.

(To reiterate) My grade: C

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