Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen was mentioned in one of my recent "Friday Finds" posts. I learned about this book from a friend, who in turn stumbled upon it in her library. In my defense, I didn't wait to hear what she thought of the book -- I charged in and borrowed my own copy purely on the fact that it was a mystery novel set in Britain in the early 1930s. Sounds fun, right?

Well, Her Royal Spyness is fun, but it's also really cheap literature, or "chick-lit". It isn't a mystery, it's more a comedy/romance/drama that involves royal family scandal and some murder and mystery tossed in for good measure. (The murder doesn't occur until nearly the middle of the book.)

The synopsis of the book is this: "Georgie, aka Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, cousin of King George V of England, is penniless and trying to survive on her own as an ordinary person in London in 1932. So far she has managed to light a fire and boil an egg...She’s gate-crashed a wedding...She’s making money by secretly cleaning houses...And she’s been asked to spy for Her Majesty the Queen. Everything seems to be going swimmingly until she finds a body in her bathtub and someone is definitely trying to kill her." (Synopsis courtesy of Rhys Bowen's website.)

I did find the book a fun and fast read (324 pages), but I also had several objections:

First, the writing was just not up to par with other mystery writers. Perhaps I shouldn't because Ms. Bowen is a modern author, but I couldn't help comparing her work with the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie... and she just didn't reach their level. Her writing came across as very modern. While some may argue the philosophies and standards of several characters are common to people of that era (which of some I can agree), the writing just doesn't compare with that of Agatha Christie's murder mysteries, many which were written and/or set in the 1930s (more on this later).

Second, on a scale of mysteries to solve, this one was fair. As I mentioned above, the murder doesn't occur until nearly half-way through the book and almost feels like an afterthought. To her credit, Ms. Bowen did throw in some distracting details and clues that muddied the waters for a while, but before I reached the last couple of chapters I was able to solve the crime myself, and before the heroine! For some readers the end of Her Royal Spyness might prove suspenseful enough to pull them through to the last page, it almost did me. But perhaps some readers prefer this to the frustration of the "magician reveal" often read in the end of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot novels.

Third, there was Ms. Bowen's use of language in the book. Although on the mild side and many of the swearing is objectionable to Europeans rather than Americans, it still could be considered objectionable and not suitable to young readers.

Fourth and last, there was the rather modern attitude towards premarital sex. This alone could be the "deal breaker" for many a reader. Nothing is discussed in detail, it's more the philosophy of some of the characters. I realize people did "get around" in the 1930s just as they do in today's society, but it wasn't something that was discussed as lightly as it is in this book, at least not in literature written at that time. And to add further insult it wasn't even a necessary component to the story. (Well, unless one considers it a must for a book to be called "chick-lit.") For me, the frequent hinting and discussion of it got on my nerves as did the life-style of some characters. It might be considered a spoiler to say Georgie never gives up her standards, though she comes close, however this is definitely not a book for a young reader based on this issue alone.

Finishing the book I was left with a definite impression. Ms. Bowen has attempted to write a fun chic-lit mystery that involves royals and non royals, scandal and romance. On a chick-lit scale she did fairly well, but on the scale of other period murder mysteries she did poorly. Agatha Christie could write a murder mystery that included comedy, drama, romance, scandal and murder without compromising the characters by sprinkling the book with bad language or socially unacceptable situations and conversations. You could know a person was bad or had questionable morals without having to delve into what they were. Ms. Bown could have done the same, but it clearly wasn't her desire and she appears to have plenty of readership in spite of this.

On a scale of 1-5 I'd rate this book a 2. It was ok. It's a unique idea for a story plot/character background. I admit I enjoyed reading it, but if I were to recommend the book it would come with the following caveat: read my review and based on the above "objections" decide for yourself if Her Royal Spyness is worth your time. For those opting to read, you are likely to find it a fun read, but I'd advise you to borrow vs. buy this book.


Nathan & Alison said...

I agree that this book is just a fun, fluffy romp. Great if you don't take it too seriously. I was disappointed that the murder didn't happen near the beginning of the book. Hello? This is a mystery! I was ready to toss the book at any moment if Georgie decided to "get some"....you get my drift. I'm glad she decided it was not proper.

Sarah M. said...

Oh and I forgot to mention the names, which you reminded me. I loved the names, or rather nick-nnames. They went well with the mood of the "fluffy romp" as you pust it. :) "Whiffy", "Binky", and "Fig".