A Murder at the Castle by Chris McGeorge: a gripping slice of pure Christmas escapism – book review –
Master of the locked-room mystery, Chris McGeorge, who wrote his first crime novel Dead Room as the thesis for his Creative Writing MA, has won an army of fans for his wickedly weird and wonderfully imaginative stories which blend classic tropes with contemporary themes, and roll out lashings of intrigue, red herrings and mind-bending twists.
And after the success of cracking novels like Guess Who, Now You See Me and Inside Out, McGeorge is back to play with our minds, confound our expectations and keep the midnight oil burning with an alternative royal history murder romp, served up with a cosy Christmas flavour.
Taking the starring role in this tasty dish is ageing King Eric Windsor – born into the family via King Edward VIII who in this story found a wife with the establishment’s seal of approval – as he hosts a tense family Christmas at his beloved Balmoral.
And even though his loved ones sense this isn’t going to be another run-of-the-mill seasonal celebration, they certainly didn’t expect the monarch to drop down dead after taking a long swig of his traditional post-dinner whisky.
Even as a violent snowstorm swirls around Balmoral and the Royal Family gathered at the castle for their traditional Christmas celebrations, there were rumours that 85-year-old King Eric was planning to name a new successor and, to make sure nothing was leaked, all mobiles were locked away and only one security man was left on the premises.
So with ex-SAS operative Tony Speck busy carrying ‘the safety of the Crown solely on his shoulders’ outdoors, the king’s head chef and favoured ‘friend’ Jon Alleyne – a 55-yearold half-British, half-Barbadian man – was the only servant inside the now totally snow-bound castle.
Alleyne doesn’t just walk the corridors of power, ‘lining the stomachs of the powerful,’ he is also an ‘important cog in the goliath of a machine’ and when the king’s poisoning points to a member of the family being guilty, it’s up to Jon to play detective and get to the bottom of this heinous crime.
Trapped by the raging blizzard, he must work out why one of the king’s own family would want to kill him and how they did it. What happens in the castle usually stays in the castle but this secret might be too big to be contained. And Jon is determined to expose the truth, even if it puts him in a killer's crosshairs... and shakes the entire monarchy to its core.
With mystery, intrigue and suspense oozing from every page, and a clever, complex plot that leaves readers constantly guessing, A Murder at the Castle is a giant serving of enjoyment and entertainment from the tantalising prologue right through to the ingenious twist in the tail.
McGeorge is an accomplished master of misdirection and as we join faithful servant, chef extraordinaire and amateur detective Jon on his journey into the Windsors’ stronghold of dirty secrets and hidden desires, the suspects and their motives tumble out like a sack of warring ferrets.
Add on a brilliantly created cast of characters – not least Eric’s alcohol-fuelled, estranged wife Princess Marjorie and his black sheep brother David – the classic trope of a snow-bound ‘locked room’ mystery and the gradual unravelling of the truth behind King Eric’s demise, and you have a gripping slice of pure Christmas escapism.
(Orion, paperback, £8.99)