Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I Spied a Dud, But Finished It Anyway

I actually started Her Royal Spyness, by Rhys Bowen several weeks ago, right after finishing Florence Gordon, but it was taking off slowly and The Storied Life of A.J. Frikry was beckoning, with it's looming library return date.  I was only going to put it down for two days, but then I got side-tracked trying to speed through three other books on the library short list - The Rosie Effect, which became my first abandoned book of 2015, maybe I'll write about that in the future; Mermaids in Paradise, which I waffled about and decided not to bother with; and Ancillary Justice, an innovative sci-fi tome I just couldn't fit in right now. I finally got back to Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie Rannoch by the end of last week.  

The premise of this first volume in a series had promise enough to pick up again: Lady Georgiana, a penniless, fictional, and minor British royal between the wars reduced to running a housekeeping service and spying for her regal relative on the side, in order to avoid the fate of either becoming a lady-in-waiting to an elderly princess or marrying an unpleasant Eastern European prince.  

Her Royal Spyness is about a quarter-step up from a cozy mystery and the only thing to really separate it from that genre, in my mind, is the fact that it takes place mostly in London.  I feel like cozy mysteries are exclusively the province of bucolic realms and seaside villages.  Once you add Tube stops, trips to Harrod's,and any mention of the Thames' murky waters, the cozy train has left the station.  Aside from the setting, the tone is quite snug and the mystery itself is very light-weight, with nary a twist in sight.  The author tips her hand quite early in the sleuthing process, which is disappointing.

The atmosphere of Depression Era London between the wars is fascinating and as well-done as that in the Maisy Dobbs mysteries or Murder at the Brightwell. I would almost venture to say that Georgie's world recalls the original British mysteries actually written in the 1930s, although Georgie is no Miss Marple and Bowen is not yet a master of the medium on par with Agatha Christie.

Speaking of Maisy Dobbs, Her Royal Spyness is a corollary in many ways.  Instead of propelling her protagonist out of a maid's uniform below stairs to the world upstairs, Bowen sends Georgie on the opposite trajectory, all the way down to the coal cellar where she learns to handle a scuttle and rustles up a maid's uniform from the scullery cupboard so she can run her clandestine housekeeping service.  Georgie is not anywhere as well developed a character as Maisy Dobbs was in her series debut.  I never had a really good sense of Georgie and felt that Bowen was constantly telling the reader what the Lady is like rather than showing us.

Despite all the short comings of Her Royal Spyness, I'm still a sucker for a good, Anglophile upstairs/downstairs novel with a dash of royal intrigue and a spot of mystery, so I added the next book in the series to my library TBR to see if it gets better.  We'll see.  In the meantime, I am reading Terms and Conditions, a contemporary novel by Robert Glancy and waiting impatiently for the 11th Maisy Dobbs to hit my library hold shelf.