Malice at the Palace: A Royal Spyness Mystery

Written by Rhys Bowen
Review by Cecelia Holland

The American fascination with the sex lives of the British royal house extends from the Tudors all the way up to the latest princess. Rhys Bowen’s new novel, latest in her series entitled A Royal Spyness, fixes on the gamboling of the children of George V.

Lady Georgiana Rannoch, thirty-fifth in line to the throne, is our entree into this rarefied space. Impecunious and keen-witted, Georgiana does undercover work for the Queen, which includes making sure a newly arrived bride-to-be doesn’t discover her royal fiancé’s fondness for men. And finding out who left the body of a flamboyant social butterfly on the doorstep of the palace, without causing a sensation on the eve of the royal wedding.

Bowen knows the period and its denizens and gives us glimpses of the splendor, with reminders that being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But the mystery is tepid, and the characters, from a literal-minded German countess to a Cockney maidservant who says things like “bob’s yer uncle,” and can’t iron a dress, seem just a little easy. The inter-war aristocrats with their hedonistic glamour seem less racy than doomed. There was more to do in this story than came out in the book.