Friday, November 13, 2015

Malice in the Palace with Georgie's Hot Tartan Toddy

“Who or what is a dick and why is he spotted?”The Countess Irmtraut von Dinkelfingen-Hackensack,Malice in the Palace

Rhys Bowen sets the ninth outing in the Royal Spyness series in 1934, just before the November wedding of youngest Royal son Prince George of England to Princess Marina of Greece/Denmark. Queen Mary has tasked her cousin and our heroine, Lady Georgiana “Georgie”  Rannoch, to be a companion to the Princess and introduce her to British society. Ensconced in the rather dreary, but reputedly haunted Kensington Palace with several older royal Princesses (the so-called Aunt Heap), Georgie still manages to get caught up with murder, political intrigue and the slightly bohemian side of London’s ‘smart set’. 

For those of you not yet familiar with the delightful Royal Spyness books, allow me to introduce you. The series is a playful bit of  “the old rumpy pumpy” but with a slight edge as Ms. Bowen acknowledges the economic realities and increasingly darker side of the pre-World War II 30’s.  Still, it’s a light, satisfying ride. The reigning monarchs, King George and Queen Mary, are not amused that their eldest son David, the Prince of Wales, has seemingly forsaken duty and taken up with American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Under English law and the Church of England, he cannot marry Simpson and reign as King. In the earlier part of the series, the Queen called upon Georgie to gather intelligence on Simpson and help guide her eldest son’s romantic interests elsewhere. 

Lady Georgiana, or as she is officially known, Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter to the Duke of Atholt and Rannoch, is 35th in line to the throne, direct cousin to King George, and flat broke. Her father the Duke gambled away the family monies before unceremoniously committing suicide in the Scottish highlands outside his castle.  Her affable brother Binky, the current Duke, is married to the insufferable “Fig”. Fig sees Georgie as an unnecessary expense, kicking her out of the family residences at regular intervals thereby leaving Georgie to fend for herself. Unfortunately, Georgie’s formal training is limited to properly seating a Bishop at dinner,  using the right fork, and curtsying without tripping (still working on that one). In addition,  Royals, even minor ones,  can’t just go out and get a job.  Oh the scandal if word reached the ears of  Buckingham Palace! Still, a girl’s gotta eat more than beans on toast. Georgiana has tried her hand at several occupations all ending in relative disaster:  discreet domestic service for visiting aristocrats ; dinner escort for visiting businessmen (yes, she’s THAT na├»ve); and counter girl at Harrods.  Her only choices seem to be marrying some dreadful European Prince or holding knitting wool for an elderly lady-in-waiting. 

The man Georgie would like to marry (if she decides she can actually trust him) is the devastatingly charming  Darcy O’Mara, son of the Lord of Kilhenny. Although the Honorable O’Mara is of the right class, he is just as penniless as Georgie as his family fortune, including the prized horse stable, was lost in Britain’s economic woes.  Darcy takes on any mysterious job he can to make and save money. Georgie suspects he spies for the Crown, but he refuses to confirm or deny.  However,  money is not the only problem. Darcy is Catholic. Since Georgie is in line to the throne, she is prevented by law from marrying a Catholic. What’s a 24 year-old love-struck royal virgin to do? Have no fear dear readers, there is hope!  Enough said.

Royal Spyness is full of other memorable characters including Georgie’s best friend, girl about town and novice fashion designer , Miss Belinda Warburton-Stokes. As much as Georgie is socially (and sexually) reserved, Belinda is not (don’t worry, nothing graphic here except the talk). Georgie’s intermittent mother, the former Duchess, stage actress and serial wife Claire Daniels, is another recurring character along with Georgie’s beloved cockney grandfather, a retired police constable.  Then there’s  “Queenie”. As Georgie’s maid,  Queenie’s  seeming inability to rise above her common background makes her completely unsuitable, but entirely affordable, for a lady of no means who is still expected to have a maid. Despite Queenie’s constant, and rather tiresome catastrophes (usually involving clothing), Georgie just can’t fire her. And that’s the endearing heart of Royal Spyness.  No matter the pressure and prejudice around her, Georgie continually puts friendship, kindness and love before image, tradition, and societal opinion. You just keep rooting for her. Go get ‘em Georgie Girl! I mean, Go Get ‘em  My Lady Georgie Girl.

Back to Malice in the Palace.  Here, Ms. Bowen, as usual, expertly blends historical fact and clever fiction.  Prince George was a renowned playboy with rumored lovers of both sexes including Noel Coward and a drug addicted society girl named Alice “Kiki” Preston aka the girl with the silver syringe. He also had a love child who was adopted out to an American publishing magnate.  Malice plays on those facts as Georgiana’s other main duty is to keep the rumors about the Prince’s shenanigans away from Princess Marina.  One night, Georgie  finds society girl Bobo Carrington, former mistress of Prince George, dead in the Kensington Palace courtyard.  The investigation flirts awfully close to her royal relatives with  potential international consequences. As comic relief to the investigation is Princess Marina’s humorless cousin, the Countess Irmtraut von Dinkelfingen-Hackensack  who can’t quite get the hang of English idioms, names, and phrasings.  Poor Trautie. So literal she actually checks the window during a rainstorm to see the cats and dogs.

Throughout Malice, Georgie displays her usual unladylike knack for witty role playing, intuitive thinking and lack of  swooning. She credits her fierce Scottish forebears who kept fighting despite missing limbs for her fortitude.  She and Darcy pair up on the investigation, but it’s Georgie of course who puts it together at the end. They make a great team and one can only wonder if Ms. Bowen is setting them up to be the Toff version of Tommy and Tuppence during the war years. 

But WWII is still a few years out.  The immediate issue is that Ms. Bowen ended Malice on a tease. Bloody unfair really. Guess we’ll just have to “keep calm and carry on” until she finishes Crowned and Dangerous (Book 10).  We just hope it’s a matter of months, not years. Otherwise even poor Georgie may get restless and burst into a chorus of “Crikeys”. Perish the thought.

Note: .A word about the Audible version of these books. Although I also used  the e-book version  for this review as there’s just no common spelling for Irmtraut von Dinkelfingen-Hackensack, I usually listen to books. The narrator for this series, Katherine Kellgren, is marvelous. She somehow embodies each character with life, individuality, and believability. A true joy on long daily commutes. 

Not The Queen’s Tea

Don’t let the Royal Albert  fool you. This tea has a kick. Much like coffee drinks, alcohol can be added to most teas. Just make the tea a bit stronger to match the alcohol. Be creative with tea flavors, syrups, spices, and liqueurs. I just picked a simple one that even I could do, no infusing necessary.

Georgie’s Hot Tartan Toddy (Belinda approved)

1 Cup hot brewed Earl Grey (or orange spice or green or other tea—just make it strong)
1.5 ounces Iris Cream liqueur
1 teaspoon Scotch Whiskey (to taste)

Attending the “cuppa”  is a mini-Victoria Sponge (basically rich yellow cake with cream/custard and preserves)  and some Spotted Dick with cream. I just couldn’t resist.  Spotted Dick is basically a bread pudding with currants or raisins. It was originally made with beef suet (beef kidney fat). These days, thankfully, we can substitute butter and flour for the suet.  By the way, the “Dick” part of the name is reputed to have either originated from the Danish/German word for dough “Deeg” or a from the old word for pudding, “puddick”. Somehow “Currants Deeg” or “Raisin Puddick” just doesn’t have the same tantalizing ring as “Spotted Dick”.  Tuck in!

Check out TK Starr’s other posts on Criminal/Human Behavior, Killer Recipes, Crimes in the Kitchen (the oops collection) and other criminally minded tidbits on TKStarr is also on FaceBook (TKStarrmysteries) and Pinterest (TKStarr). 

1 comment:

  1. My mystery book club is reading the 12 Clues of Christmas for December and after reading this I can't wait!