Series in Review #8: Bertie – The Complete Prince of Wales Mysteries
I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I quite like detective stories. In all the range of books I’ve read, however, I’ve never thought to combine that with another genre I enjoy reading: history. Somehow, though, Peter Lovesey manages to combine the two perfectly into the type of story that had me hanging on to every word. The entire Prince of Wales Mysteries long!
I was offered an ARC by Edelweiss in exchange for a review. All opinions are strictly my own.
The Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, was more – way more – than anyone ever thought he was. Or at least, that’s what Peter Lovesey’s series would have you believe. After all, with so much free time – and so little responsibilities given to him by his mother, Queen Victoria – what else is a man to do? But turn detective?
Bertie and the Tin Man
It is 1886 and the greatest of all jockeys, Fed Archer, has put his gun to his head and shot himself. An inquest is arranged with indecent haste. His mind was unhinged by typhoid, say the jury, despite conflicting evidence.
The Prince is suspicious. He admired Archer. He knows the Turf better than anyone on that jury and he has personal experience of typhoid. When he learns that Archer’s last words were, “Are they coming?” he decides on action. He will turn his unique talents to solving the mystery and tell us in his inimitable fashion how he does it.
Bertie and the Seven Bodies
The eldest son of Queen Victoria, Bertie will one day be King Edward VII. For the moment, though, his primary responsibility is to enjoy himself, a task at which he excels. Bedding society beauties, tormenting his long-suffering wife. And of course: taking his royal bulk off to other people’s country estates, there to shoot things, eat enormous meals, and pinch the serving maids.
It is at just such an estate that the story unfolds, though this is no ordinary shooting-party. And with a killer afoot, the glittering guest-list is dwindling rapidly. Bertie greets the murders with some delight, as they allow him to exercise his passion for amateur sleuthing (a task at which he doesn’t particularly excel).
Bertie and the Crime of Passion
Bertie (the future King Edward VII) has a princely appetite for tasty morsels of all kinds. With glorious food and glamorous women equally appealing? It’s not surprising that he visits Paris every year, with a modest retinue of some 30 faithful servants. The year 1889, however, marks his most eventful trip.
First, he is he introduced to the can-can – that deliciously vulgar new sensation in which he takes, of course, a purely scholarly interest. And second, a murder at a fashionable nightclub allows him to exercise his beloved sleuthing skills, poking the royal nose into showgirls’ dressing rooms and all manner of backstage intrigues. With Sarah Bernhardt and Toulouse-Lautrec acting as a dual Dr. Watson, His Highness cannot fail to find a solution to the crime – though no bets as to whether it’s the right one.
Attention to detail
This first book in the series shines light on how, exactly, the Prince of Wales comes to be a detective. While this is not in any way the kind of plot I would have expected to be linked to the Prince of Wales? Peter Lovesey does build the narrative up in such a way that it seems to make perfect sense – that it seems plausible, even, that this really happened.
Throughout this entire series, actually, that will be a recurring theme. The author pays so much attention to details, to the tone of His Royal Highness… What’s more, the research that must have gone into every aspect of London, of life as a royal… That’s what really struck me most: to what extent London, the countryside, and Paris – in those days – came to life to me, through the pages.
Twists and turns
Of course, there’s the matter of the mystery. And I have to admit: Lovesey had me completely blindfolded time and time again. In the first book, the resolution of Archer’s suicide took me completely by surprise. In the second book, Lovesey used – in essence – exactly the same trick. And yet, I did not see it coming. Again. What didn’t help was that, by the time of the denouement, there had been so many suspects… Well, I just didn’t really know what to think anymore.
So, by the time I got to the third book – I was resolved. I would keep my eye out for anything that seemed to signal the same time of twist. And of course, then I got turned completely upside down again.
Bertie, Prince of Narration
A useful note to add here, would probably be that a lot of my confusion might have been due to the main character. Bertie, well-intending as he may be, is not the most reliable of narrators. After all, he sees everyone’s behaviour through one pair of lenses only, and that is that they all ought to be in awe that he even deems to entertain them.
A lot of his interpretations of other people’s behaviour, left me questioning whether that was really what happened. After all, as far as power dynamics go – he definitely had the upper hand on almost all occasions. So any woman was bound to be swooning at the sight of him, and each of his jokes sincerely makes every single person laugh… You get the gist of it.
While I didn’t go into this series with the highest of expectations, the Prince of Wales Mysteries definitely captured me from beginning to end. Whether it was the unexpected answers to the murders, or the variety of characters. Whether it was the attention to every tiny detail, or the variety of characters and locations… There was always something new to be found in the next book.
Probably my favourite of the entire series, would have to be the second book. After all, Agatha Christie is at the root of my love for detective stories. So any book written in her honour, so to speak? Bound to be a hit with me. I feel as if there may have even been a story by hers, that was similar to this one, but if there was, surely Lovesey managed to make it his own. There wasn’t a single mystery where I felt completely sure I knew what had happened, until after the actual explanation of the crime had occurred.
And that, more than anything, is what you want from a good detective mystery, right? (Goodreads)