On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service
Her Royal Spyness, Book #11
By Rhys Bowen
Author’s website: www.Rhysbowen.com
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
When royal sleuth Georgie Rannoch receives a letter from her dearest friend Belinda, who’s in an Italian villa awaiting the birth of her illegitimate baby, she yearns to run to her side. If only she could find a way to get there! But then opportunity presents itself in a most unexpected way—her cousin the queen asks her to attend a house party in the Italian Lake Country. The Prince of Wales AND the dreadful Mrs. Simpson have been invited, and Her Majesty is anxious to thwart a possible secret wedding.
What luck! A chance to see Belinda, even if it is under the guise of stopping unwanted nuptials. Only that’s as far as Georgie’s fortune takes her. She soon discovers that she attended finishing school with the hostess of the party—and the hatred they had for each other then has barely dimmed. Plus, she needs to hide Belinda’s delicate condition from the other guests. And her dashing beau, Darcy is (naturally) working undercover on a dangerous mission. Then her actress mother shows up, with a not-so-little task to perform. With all this subterfuge, it seems something is bound to go horribly wrong—and Georgie will no doubt be left to pick up the pieces when it does.
On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service is possibly the best book to date in the Royal Spyness Mystery series. Full of 1930’s high society, intrigue, and murder, it does not disappoint.
It’s April 1935, and Lady Georgiana Rannoch is a bit bored with her fiancé Darcy once again out on “assignment”. That is, until she receives a letter from her very dear friend Belinda, who has fled to Italy to have her baby in secret and desperately wants Georgie to come keep her company. When she is summoned by the queen, Georgie thinks that the meeting has to do with her wanting to renounce her claim to the British throne (she’s 35th in line at present) so that she may marry Darcy, who is Catholic. However, the queen has learned of Georgie’s pending travel and suggests she attend a house party to keep an eye on her cousin David and his most unsuitable American companion. Of course, I am referring to the Prince of Wales and his love Mrs. Wallis Simpson, and Georgie is to spy on them for the queen who is afraid of a secret wedding between the pair of lovers. Georgie arrives at the house party to find the hostess, who is now a Contessa, is a former classmate. It seems like an unusual gathering of a group of people who do not have much in common – Georgie’s mother and her German industrialist fiancé Max, a general, who is Hitler’s chief military strategist, and his assistant, the host’s uncle, one of Mussolini’s advisors, German Count Rudolf von Rosskopf who has his sights set on wooing Georgie, and the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Simpson. Georgie is tickled to find her beloved Darcy working undercover as a gardener at the villa. In addition to the queen’s task, Georgie’s mother has a near impossible request, and Georgie hears some very important information. And, of course, there is eventually a murder or two to solve.
I think that the Royal Spyness Mystery series gets better with each additional book. Georgie has matured and become quite a force to be reckoned with. She is in a unique position as a member of the royal family but must be industrious since she is a “poor relation”. She is observant and intelligent, and she is pretty self-reliant and independent given the era. We do not get to see Darcy as much as I would like here, but he remains a favorite character. His reaction to the birth of Belinda’s baby had me laughing out loud. Georgie’s mother plays a central role this time around, but I still do not trust her, and her self-serving antics, as far as I can throw her. The inclusion of Italian and German characters adds interest to the gathering, and Count Rudolf is such a slime ball. Ladies maid Gerda is scarily efficient and seemingly not to be trusted. Belinda is not in the book as much as I thought she would be, and that is fine with me since she has never been a favorite character.
The murder does not take place until page 172, but there are plenty of other “plots of espionage and attempted seduction” (p.154) to keep readers turning the pages. I love that Bowen weaves real people and events into the story, and there is the slightest element of foreboding about the years to come leading up to World War II that provides a nice bit of tension throughout the book. While reading, I was never quite sure who was telling the truth, who was keeping secrets, and who was trustworthy. To me, that is a sign of good story telling. And though the murder is a little predictable in its resolution, I greatly enjoyed the traditional “locked room” style of this book making it is a fine homage to Christie.
On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service is excellent escapist reading, and it is great fun to be alongside Georgie as she works it all out. I recommend it to fans of cozy, traditional, and historical mysteries.