My thanks go out to the lovely Sarah, representing publisher Bookouture, for securing me a spot on this ‘Books On Tour’ journey.
As ever, additional thanks go out to NetGalley, for their excellent download and review service.
A ROYAL MURDER – (Lady Eleanor Swift #9)
Spring, 1923. One-time adventurer and now amateur sleuth Lady Eleanor Swift is attending the annual royal regatta with her new pal Tipsy Fitzroy. Tipsy has Eleanor trussed up like a debutante in a new dress, determined to turn her into a proper society lady. Even Eleanor’s favourite companion, Gladstone the bulldog, has a new outfit for the occasion.
But the sparkling prize-giving ceremony is interrupted when the devilishly handsome host gulps his glass of champagne on stage and collapses to the floor. The victim is none other than the king’s cousin, Lord Xander Taylor-Howard. He was rumoured to be entangled in a rather dubious gambling ring, but did someone kill him instead of collecting his debt? Or was this simply an ill-timed tragic accident? Either way, a right royal scandal is afoot…
Sir Percival, the head of the royal police, asks Eleanor for her help investigating. He’d do anything to keep the story under wraps. She knows it will get her into hot water with a certain dapper Detective Seldon, but she’s determined to see justice done. However, as she digs deeper, she learns Lord Taylor-Howard was hiding more than one murky secret. It isn’t until she takes a closer look at the unfortunate royal’s shattered champagne flute that she stumbles upon just the clue she needs. But can she reel in the killer before her ship is sunk too?
Starting out writing high-end travel articles and books, they published everything from self-improvement to humour, before embarking on their first historical mystery.
They are the authors of the fabulous Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery series, set in the 1920s.
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‘You simply have to trust me.’
‘Lady Eleanor Swift sighed. ‘We’ve been over this. I don’t need -‘
‘Nonsense!’ Her companion’s honeyed voice oozed concern. ‘You know it’s for your own good.’
Eleanor tugged on her fiery-red curls in frustration. Gladstone, her bulldog, had long tired of it all, and had lumbered huffily off to his bed by the kitchen range. Her butler silently materialised with more champagne.
She shook her head. ‘Actually, Clifford, since it is, in fact, only breakfast and’ – she glanced at the mantelpiece clock – ‘a horribly early one at that, I think we’ll pass on more -‘
‘Oh no, this definitely calls for more fizz!’ Eleanor’s self-appointed new best friend indicated for Clifford to refill their glasses. Her big brown eyes widened. ‘That’s not why everyone calls me Tipsy though.’ She giggled, swinging her glossy dark mane over her shoulder, emphasising the sweetheart neckline of her sapphire silk dress. ‘I mean, what did my parents expect, calling me Tiffany Persephone Fitzroy! Of course everyone was going to nickname me Tipsy!’
“But you know how free-spirited my parents were and how… carefree they brought me up abroad. I’m just not used to this suffocating life which revolves around etiquette and rules. I sincerely wish I could set fire to society’s rulebook and delight in fanning the flames with unladylike gusto”
“Darling, it’s simply practice. What have I been telling you? All men are the same. You just need to find their individual little button and figure out how hard they like it pressed”
“Forgive my ignorance, but I rather thought the point of fashion is that it is entirely useless.” His lips quirked. “Otherwise it would be designed for practicality and comfort”
“And why would that be of any interest to me? I prefer straight-talking to double meanings, by the way.” – “Me too. But isn’t that the trouble with all of us who have even a whiff of Irish descent. We’re masters of turning a simple sentence into a confusing riddle”
“I’m as in the dark as you are,” Eleanor said. “Even though I trust you implicitly, Clifford, my curiosity has entirely eaten me up to the point I’m now ready to boil your head”
“My business is not about lying. It is about squirreling away secrets and then avoiding being caught with them”
“At Henley Regatta there are beautiful boats, plenty of bunting, and… is that a body in the marquee?”
I am so addicted to this ‘Golden Age’ cozy mystery series, which just keeps getting better and better. The author would really have to ‘drop the baton’ before one of Lady Eleanor (Ellie) Swift’s adventures would get less than full marks from me!
It is usually easy for me to slip into the era of a storyline, however sometimes I do have to stop and give myself a good talking to, when my mind wanders too far from the time and place of the crime and the characters as they are depicted, and I start comparing them with the crime detection techniques and forensic testing of the present day. It might be that on this occasion, Ellie herself was so far out of her own comfort zone that she took her eye off the ball momentarily, not because there was anything at all out of context with the narrative or storyline, but simply because the ‘bright young thing’ culture which pervaded events and was determined to distract her, is so far removed from her natural outlook on life. Everyone close to her, has tried and spectacularly failed, to turn Eleanor into the pitch perfect ‘Lady Of The Manor’, that they have given up trying and to be honest, are actually made to feel much more comfortable themselves, when taking her as they find her and accepting that her rather quirky and down-to-earth outlook on her supposed position in life, is what makes her so genuine, unique and endearing.
Therefore, the force of nature who is Ellie’s new best friend, one Tiffany Persephone ‘Tipsy’ Fitzroy, really can be overwhelming and begin to grate on one’s nerves, in her efforts to change and transform Eleanor, not only by insisting on the two of them heading off to Henley Regatta, after first coercing Ellie into purchasing some very fashionable, yet totally frivolous and constraining clothes; but by then encouraging her to throw herself at the many eligible, but immensely conceited, titled and idle young men, who frequent such events. For Ellie, who is persevering in her attempts to take her so far rather tenuous friendship with Chief Inspector Hugh Seldon to the next level, she really isn’t interested in any extraneous romantic distractions and soon decides that Tipsy might have her own selfish best interests at heart, not Ellie’s. Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing, Ellie!
Which is just as well, because Ellie, together with her faithful butler come confidante and fellow amateur sleuth, Clifford, soon find themselves embroiled in their favourite pastime, that of solving what fast becomes a rather complicated and convoluted duo of murders. However, on this occasion, the situation is further exacerbated by the fact that both victims are distantly related to the Royal Family, so Hugh and his team have been side-lined by the Royal Police, who take automatic jurisdiction and have personally requested that the duo investigate exclusively and with the utmost discretion, so as not to cause the Royal Household any derogatory press. It soon becomes clear to Ellie and Clifford, that they have been chosen by Sir Percival Westlake, with his own separate and very personal agenda at the forefront of his mind, although they assume, as it transpires incorrectly, it is because of the serious nature of the allegations against the two young men, that of potentially spying and running up huge debts through their nefarious gambling activities. Together with Hugh, who has by now defied his superiors to throw in his lot with Ellie and Clifford, it takes all their combined brainpower to eventually fathom the full extent of Sir Percival’s selfish duplicity and ulterior motives, which are much worse than they had expected, and thus confront and apprehend the murderer. By which time, they have been attacked, followed, had their conversations bugged and all manner of underhand activities, culminating in their final near death chase.
As the saying goes, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’, and on this occasion Ellie not only manages to cheat death in her closest encounter yet, but she has also been able to give Hugh a metaphorical nudge in the right direction on the romance front, as he makes it clear that he is ready to move their relationship forward a step or two, although whether it will be quickly enough for an impetuous Ellie, remains to be seen. Whatever happens though, Ellie and Clifford’s luck must surely soon run out and I can’t see Hugh tolerating many more such heart-stopping moments, which place Ellie in terrible danger, as he has had to endure during their Royal Murder Investigation.
Those are the very bare bones of what was in fact a very complex and complicated investigation, and whilst I might have briefly considered the eventual perpetrator as one of my suspects, their name certainly didn’t appear in my final frame, although many other erroneous ones did!
This multi-layered, highly textured, traditional murder/mystery storyline, was well structured and fluently written over many concise and well signposted chapters, which kept the action fast-paced and seamless, with never a dull moment. Rich in atmosphere, totally immersive and certainly a story to escape into, some wonderful narrative and dialogue added excellent visual depth to the proceedings; as picnics are shared with Hugh; late night brainstormers turn into marathon draughts and chess matches with the inimitable Clifford; the female members of the household staff, both old and young, can’t hide their feelings about having the dashing detective calling at the Hall on a regular basis; and even the gardener and Gladstone the dog get in on the act, with a hilarious episode concerning a roll in a muddy swamp! When the chips are down and duty calls, this rather eclectic mix of personalities take their responsibilities very seriously. However, there is always time for a little fun and games and those moments are documented by the author, with some delicious bursts of heart and humour.
As the series moves on and the characters really take on their own definitive personalities, I unusually find myself trying to visualise them as real, flesh and bones people and what they might physically look like. The times dictate that Ellie really should be only decorous window dressing and as such, when invited to events such as Henley, she should always have a glass in her hand, but always discreetly abstain from eating anything. OK, so either Ellie is much more curvaceous than I see her, or she definitely has hollow legs, as she doesn’t seem to be able to stop, like most of us, at ‘three square meals a day’, with her extensive snack regime known only to Clifford. Hugh, I imagine to be handsome, tall and rather gangly, always smartly turned out, but a little shy and tongue tied at social occasions and definitely married to his job, at which he is rather good. It is definitely Clifford who is something of an enigma. At first I had built up an image of someone rather ‘Poirot’ like, quite short, a little stocky and very silent and fleet of foot. However, having read about his personal exploits and challenges during the progress of this particular case, my view has been revised somewhat and whilst still rather stockily built, I now see him as a rather tall and imposing figure, silent yes, but you would always know when he is in a room. His loyalty to his mistress is without question, although at times he appears to act more like a middle-aged bachelor uncle, than a stuffed-shirt butler!
Ellie is a compelling, if unconventional, member of the aristocracy, although whether she will ever quite make it to ‘Your Ladyship’ status in high society, I’m not sure, and does she really aspire to? Clifford is every person’s dream companion, with his uncanny knack of being able to read his mistress’s mind, knowing what she is thinking and pre-empting her every slightest need before she even utters a word. Hugh is developing nicely in his role of charming suitor for Ellie, despite the gossips pointing out that his lowly position as a working class man and a member of the Constabulary at that, is not conducive to him ever becoming Lord of Henley Hall. In fact, all of the characters are maturing and growing in their individual roles, with some excellent vibrant synergy between them, making it easy for me to identify with and remain invested in them, as the series progresses.
Oh! and I mustn’t leave Gladstone out of the equation, for whilst he really doesn’t commit too much effort to the work of crime solving, he is a faithful and loyal friend to the entire household, so long as they have a few titbits of food for him on a regular basis and his bed is always in a nice warm spot by the kitchen range, for when life just gets too much for him and he needs his own space and forty winks!
A few hours of delicious escapism from the real world and I am always sad to see this dream team, close a case and go off to get on with their own lives, leaving me to return to my own!
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the publisher and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!