*** Now available in paperback!
THE TWELVE CLUES OF CHRISTMAS
By Rhys Bowen
Berkley Prime Crime, November 5, 2013 ($7.99)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Lady Georgiana Rannoch, thirty-fifth in line to the English throne, is looking forward to spending a miserable Christmas season at the gloomy ancestral pile in Scotland. She had come at the behest of her sister-in-law Fig, to assist her after the birth of the latest Rannoch, a baby girl who'd knocked Georgie out of the thirty-fourth place in line. Now Fig's mother is on the scene and she makes it clear that Georgie is not welcome, especially since she has refused to play her proper royal role by rejecting several worthy suitors.
Georgie would much rather spend the holidays in London with the unsuitable man who has won her heart, the Irish rover Darcy O'Mara. Her brother, Binky, says he can't afford to open the London house just for her, and anyway Darcy is on some secret mission in South America. Her much-married mother is in some quaint village called Tiddleton-under-Lovey, working on a play with Noel Coward, and tells Georgie she has no time to spend with her.
As a royal, Georgie is not allowed to work for her living, but because of her late father's poor money management skills there are no funds for her to take a holiday somewhere else. She has managed to find a few loopholes to that employment rule in the past, however, and she manages to do so again. She answers an ad for a social hostess at a manor house party in southern England, and the lady of the house is thrilled to find a person of such high status to fit the role. Soon Georgie arrives at Gorzley Hall in Tiddleton-under-Lovey to perform her duties. Lucky coincidence, yes?
She arrives in the midst of a commotion. A neighbor has apparently killed himself while sitting in a tree in the Hawse-Gorzley orchard, and the police presence has upset the household routine. The news that three prisoners have escaped from nearby Dartmoor Prison has also unsettled the family, but in best British fashion they carry on. The guests arrive, a lively mix of wealthy Americans, colonial Colonels, dowager duchesses, and English upper crusts. The son of the house brings home a friend from Oxford, and a young cousin shows up whose identity surprises and shocks Georgie. To add a bit of fun to the mix, Georgie is attended by her hopeless, hapless maid, Queenie.
Over the next several days, the guests enjoy a traditional English Christmas, with caroling, wassail, faux horse racing, witch chasing and murders. The witch chasing is traditional only to the village, and the murders, one a day, are most certainly not a normal tradition. Georgie enlists the household, as well as her mummy, Cockney grandfather, and the playwright, to find the murderer and bring his — or her — crime spree to an end.
This is the sixth in Bowen's Royal Spyness series, and it is just as delightful as the previous five. It has all the color and authentic atmosphere of Great Britain in the early 1930's along with a well-crafted mystery. Lady Georgina is a royal winner!
This review is based on the hardcover edition.
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