A Royal Affair: A Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery

Written by Allison Montclair
Review by Susan Lowell

Brava! Brava! Bravissima!

That’s one big cheer for each of two delightful main characters, Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge, and an even bigger one for the author. The second volume of her Sparks & Bainbridge mystery series is, if possible, even better than its clever, effervescent predecessor, The Right Sort of Man.

In A Royal Affair it’s still 1946, and the two women are still trying to get their fledgling business, The Right Sort Marriage Bureau, off the ground. Neither is married herself. Gwen’s a grieving war widow, and Iris—widely known as Sparks—is the veteran of many hairbreadth war- and peace-time adventures, undercover in the fullest sense of the word.

As matchmakers and involuntary detectives, they complement each other well. In fact, they are a perfect match. Gwen is a tall, blonde, well-connected ex-debutante with deep personal and social skills. For complicated reasons she and her young son are virtually imprisoned by their awful aristocratic relatives. Short, brunette Iris graduated from Cambridge and helped win the war with her hush-hush intelligence skills, as well as her hand-to-hand combat ones. Her set of connections includes useful forgers, gangsters, policemen, and spies.

Sparks and Bainbridge are surprised in their shabby office one day by Gwen’s posh cousin Patience, who works for the Queen (later the Queen Mum) “in some capacity.” She has a job for The Right Sort. Not another murder … but something extremely delicate.

“‘Patience,’ said Gwen, ‘are you asking us to vet Prince Philip?’”

Moments of real danger and feeling punctuate runs of witty dialogue. Oh, yes, the charming characters and twisty plot simply beg to become a screenplay. But it’ll be hard to improve on these fast-turning pages.