THE COMPLETE PRINCE OF WALES MYSTERIES
Publisher: Soho Crime (March, 2019)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Peter Lovesey is the author of more than thirty well-received mysteries, including the Peter Diamond and Hen Mallin series and several stand-alones. His career began with eight novels featuring Sergeant Cribb, a Victorian policeman who was, unlike Bertie, the Prince of Wales and future Kind of England, a very good detective. Sergeant Cribb’s stories were built around a particular Victorian sport or pastime, and Lovesey immersed himself in all things Victorian.
Lovesey was done with the sergeant’s adventures after the eighth novel, but his interest in that era was not diminished. Years later he came across a book about Fred Archer, the foremost jockey of the nineteenth century. At the top of his game, he looked out the window of his palatial estate, and asked no one in particular: “Are they coming?” The author decided to write a Victorian version of Dick Francis’ popular horse racing thrillers based on Archer’s story. A new detective, without the skills and competence of Sergeant Cribb, was needed.
Why not someone who’d been a major patron of the doomed man? A man with certain advantages. Why not Bertie, Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales and future King Edward VII? He could go where he pleased, call on Scotland Yard if he needed its help, was knowledgeable about racing, and had plenty of time on his hands? Bertie was known to be a trial to his mother, Queen Victoria, and she didn’t trust him to handle affairs of the Empire. Lovesey had no reason to believe Bertie had ever tried his hand at detecting, but what if he had?
In 1886, the forty-five year old prince was known more for his colorful lifestyle than for his intelligence. He was game to try anything, was popular with the ladies, traveled the capitols of Europe, and was fearless in his endeavors. He would have surely been puzzled at the young man’s action.
Thus was BERTIE AND THE TIN MAN born. It was meant as a one-off, but later, by popular demand, the prince would ride again. The next two Bertie novels were inspired by the Queen of the Golden Age, Agatha Christie. BERTIE AND THE SEVEN BODIES is the perfect manor house mystery. Bertie and his long-suffering wife Alix, Princess of Wales, are invited to a shooting weekend at the home of the recently widowed Lady Drummond. The other guests were carefully chosen, but for what Bertie can’t decipher on what basis they were chosen. The very first night a young lady with a lovely face and a certain reputation collapses and falls face down in the bombe*. In her pocket is a cryptic note: “Monday.”
She is carried out by ambulance. The man who invited her went with her, returning to report that she had not survived. The next day, there’s another note, another day. “Tuesday.” Bertie is the first to realize that the killer is leaving a message. The bodies begin to fall to the tune of the old rhyme that begins with “Monday’s child is fair of face.”
This brings to mind another Christie favorite, going by different titles, including AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Agatha could not have written a more perfect blend of country house murders, crimes based on nursery rhymes, and serial murder in a closed setting.
The third Bertie book, set in 1891, is BERTIE AND THE CRIME OF PASSION. He sent his wife to stay in her ancestral castle in Denmark and went to visit his favorite city, Paris. He is free to indulge in his passion for French food, French entertainment venues, and especially French women. He is well-known in the city, with friends everywhere.
On his first morning at the posh Hotel Bristol he is visited by no other than the Divine Sarah Bernhardt, who brings bad news about an old family friend. A tragedy had occurred during an engagement party for the daughter of the Comte dÁgincourt. On the crowded floor of the Moulin Rouge, the girl’s fiancé had been fatally shot point blank. None of the party goers had seen a thing, or so they said.
Having little faith in the local police force, the Comte accepts Bertie’s offer to conduct his own investigation. Not to be outdone, Bernhardt insists on helping him. As events unfold, the two come to conflicting conclusions on the killer’s identity, but both agree it was a crime of passion.
Other famous Parisians make an appearance, many of them regulars at the cabaret. The most marvelous is Toulouse-Lautrec, whose sketches provide a crucial clue. Seeing Paris through Bertie’s eyes is a delight. To read the intricately plotted, colorfully populated, subtly humorous, story is a pleasure.
Lovesey can spin a fine tale set in any century. Although he protests that he has no reason to believe Bertie might followed the path he’s laid out, there is so much intimate detail in the Prince’s life that one might wonder, if Lovesey knows something he’s not telling. That doubt is part of Lovesey’s ability to make the characters come alive on the page.
At 634 pages, this is a hefty read. Don’t be put off by the length, dear reader. The stories are so intriguing and entertaining, though, the pages will fly by. I highly recommended this clever, funny, poignant novel.
*Bombe — an ice cream dessert frozen in a spherical mould so as to resemble a cannonball, hence the name. Also called a bombe glacée.
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