A Royal Pain, Rhys Bowen, Berkley Prime Crime, $23.95.
To say the second book in Rhys Bowen's series about Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie of Glen Garry and Rannoch is being eagerly awaited is something of an understatement. I can't remember the last time a second book in a series caused this much interest - of course, Bowen has already established herself with her Evan Evans and Molly Muphy books, but it's still unusual. And having read A Royal Pain I think I can safely say there is little chance of disappointment. Every bit as much fun as the first one, it has some slightly heftier themes and it feels like Georgie has comfortably established herself both in London and in the hearts of the readers.
Georgie, for the uninitiated, is a cousin of the British Royal family - 34th in line to the throne - circa 1932. Having established her bona fides in the last book when she found a body in the bathtub of her London home and the police were sure her brother, Binky, was the culprit (she found the real killer) the Queen now sees her as something of a secret weapon. Since it's 1932, high on the Queen's list of priorities is the marriage of her son, David, Prince of Wales. He is presently enamored of the eminently unsuitable Wallis Simpson. The Queen's plan is to bring over the Princess Hannelore of Bavaria for a visit, throwing her in David's path whenever possible. Hannelore, fresh out of the convent, is rumored to be a great beauty, and when she arrives, Georgie indeed thinks she looks like something out of a fairy tale. Not out of a fairy tale is her companion, the Baroness Rottenmeister, who always wears black and is called behind her back by the princess "a pain in the ass". Hannelore has learned her English from American gangster films.
The complications are many as the virtually penniless Georgie is forced to hire a butler and a maid - her cockney grandfather and his neighbor, Mrs. Huggins - and then she finds she must also hire a real ladies' maid for herself, and she blackmails Binky into fronting her the cash for the impossibly efficient Mildred. As Hannelore is eager to meet "young and sexy" guys she and Georgie figure out a way to ditch the Baroness by giving her hardly any food and cold bathwater; she's off to stay with other nobility living in London in short order. Chaperone dispensed with, Georgie and Hannelore proceed to be in the presence of two dead bodies in as many days, which Georgie dismisses as a coincidence, but her grandfather and the police do not.
Threading in a subplot involving Communists and Oswald Mosely's black shirted fascists, they form a backdrop to the King and Queen's growing worry over David (who completely ignores Hannelore) and Mrs. Simpson. It's a subtle, effective and incredibly intelligent way of framing this bit of fun into actual history, bringing the characters into reality in a believable manner. As I've said many times, Bowen is a masterful narrative storyteller, and she does not disappoint though I'll make a confession: I wouldn't even have cared if there were murders in the book, so much did I enjoy reading about the sparky, memorable Georgie. This book should absolutely guarantee an even louder clamoring for the third installment.
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