Murder Most Royal by S J Bennett: The third book of Her Majesty The Queen Investigates series - book review -

The year 2016 has proved more than a little tricky for Queen Elizabeth II with the Brexit referendum and the US elections revealing deep divisions in both Whitehall and Washington.

Murder Most Royal by S J Bennett
Murder Most Royal by S J Bennett

The year 2016 has proved more than a little tricky for Queen Elizabeth II with the Brexit referendum and the US elections revealing deep divisions in both Whitehall and Washington.

Fortunately, Christmas is almost here and now she can leave her ‘gilded office block’ at Buckingham Palace and head for the wide open spaces, vast English skies and freewheeling birds on her much-loved Sandringham estate in rural Norfolk.

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But when a severed hand is found washed up on a nearby beach, it looks like Her Majesty’s low-key Christmas is going to be murder.

On the day that award-winning author S.J. Bennett handed in the proofs for the third book of her delightfully cosy and quirky Her Majesty The Queen Investigates series, she heard the news that the 96-year-old sovereign had died.

Despite her shock and sorrow at the Queen’s passing, Bennett knew that it would only add more poignancy to her stories in a series that aims to celebrate our late monarch’s lifetime of dedication to public service, her role in all our lives, and her impact on the world at large.

And this new mystery is the perfect tribute as Bennett once again takes readers behind the walls of palaces and royal homes to imagine an unexpected super-sleuthing superstar sovereign who solves murder mysteries in between her more regular and recognised duties.

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It’s not a good start to the Christmas holiday in the royal household when both the Queen and Prince Philip go down with colds but the monarch is immediately cheered when she steps out on to her farmland and smells the welcoming and ‘bracing odour of manure and straw’ at the stables.

The Queen hopes to focus on her family this Christmas but her best laid plans are scuppered when a severed hand and a holdall containing drugs are found by a dog walker on Snettisham beach next to the Sandringham estate.

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Unknown to her subjects, Elizabeth has become quite accustomed to solving even the most complex of murders but even though she quickly identifies the victim as 70-year-old local aristocrat Edward St Cyr, from his distinctive signet ring, the search for his killer is not so straightforward.

St Cyr led an unconventional, often controversial life, making many enemies along the way in the quiet, rural world of North Norfolk, where everyone knows each other’s business. And suspects soon include the Queen’s horse groom, a shady land agent, another neighbour as well as the ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ St Cyr’s many cousins and relations.

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But when a second man is found dead, and a prominent local woman is nearly killed in a hit-and-run, the mystery takes an even darker turn. With the Christmas break coming to an end, the Queen and Nigerian ex-Army officer Rozie Oshodi – her trusted ally in murder detection and immensely discreet assistant private secretary – must race to discover how the pieces of the puzzle fit together... or the next victim may be found even closer to home.

With a supporting cast of real and fictional players – including some wonderfully caustic cameo appearances by the late Prince Philip – and a plot that blends a fascinating exploration of the royals’ strange-but-true Christmas traditions with an intriguing mystery, this is an exhilarating romp that brings us the Queen, her family and her courtiers as we have never before seen them.

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And it is the incomparable Queen Elizabeth II who is undoubtedly the shining star of Bennett’s new laugh-out-loud, royal blue mystery which picks up perfectly every nuance and familiar characteristic of our long-serving monarch and paints a dazzling, humorous and totally convincing portrait of the countryside-loving, horse-mad, compassionate and dedicated monarch without losing sight of her dignity and integrity.

Best supporting roles are undoubtedly the tireless, trusty Rozie, the eyes, ears and action woman of her canny ‘Boss,’ and the fearlessly outspoken and crustily irreverent Prince Philip whose throwaway lines and walk-on parts prove so often to be the hilarious and sometimes poignant scene-stealers.

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With its richly detailed and authentic portrayal of court life and diplomacy, a fast-paced plot littered with clues and red herrings, revealing insights into the Queen and Prince Philip’s largely unknown farming pursuits, and moments of real pathos, this is a wonderfully entertaining series with a distinctly British flavour and the perfect winter-warmer for the long, dark nights ahead.

And look out for the next book in the series, A Death in Diamonds, scheduled for February 2024, which will travel back in time to the Queen’s visit to Paris in May of 1957.(Zaffre, hardback, £14.99)