So I picked up Her Royal Spyness because I’m going to be on my first panel with, among others, Rhys Bowen at Bouchercon (History in Jeopardy: A Forensic Game Show. Those of you coming, it’s on Thursday at 11. Come watch me make a complete ass of myself.) I figure you should at least read something of the other historical novelists, particularly those with whom you will...um...panel.
My expectations have been low lately. Frankly, every time I pick up a “must read” book or an “award winner” I find myself continually looking at the cover, wondering if I haven’t got the wrong one. Is anyone writing decent books worth reading these days? I wondered.
Well, yes. They are. Bowmen’s Her Royal Spyness smacked me immediately like a Lord Peter book (same time frame, a lot of rich young things spouting “Cheerio” and “spot of tea?” It’s chatty, first person style was fun to read from the get-go but I did begin to wonder just when the spying or the murder might show up. The queen wants our heroine Georgiana to spy on her son the Prince (later Edward VIII) and a certain American divorcee he’s been hanging around with. But mostly Georgie—a minor royal, who is 34th from the throne—is too preoccupied at the moment trying to find a way to make a living as her half-brother the duke cut off her allowance when she turned 21. Her father is no more and her mother is a flighty and oft-married former actress. Her only hope is to either be sent off to the country as a lady-in-waiting to boring relations or marry some deadly dull foreign prince--until she comes up with a few plans of her own.
Full of interesting characters as their “whimsy” takes them ;), I didn’t mind that the murder doesn’t happen till the middle of the book! Just like a foray into a Madam Sayers novel, I didn’t really care how hardcore the mystery is, I just like listening to the characters. I did enjoy this. I look forward to more.
The next book was Simon Levack’s Demon of the Air. Here is a true original. This is an Aztec mystery, set in Mexico in 1517. Yaotl is a slave who used to be a priest and he is plunged into a myriad of circumstances whirling way out of his control that dredge up a bit of his past while at the same time forces him to chose sides between his master, the Chief Minister, and no less than Emperor Montezuma himself. But it’s not your drop-a-detective-in-the-Aztec-Empire kind of book. Yaotl is a truly unique character set against an unusual and fascinating backdrop.
There’s a lot of blood, as the story opens on the daily sacrifice of slaves, hearts torn out on top of the Great Pyramid. But after a while, you sink into the Aztec mindset and it seems to make perfect sense, if any religion does.
Beforehand, we get a good and brief explanation of the Aztec calendar and pronunciation guide, but after that--though there is a lot to absorb--Levack is very skillful at weaving his tale in a language we can all understand. This was a Debut Dagger Award-winner in 2004 and it certainly deserves it. What this author doesn’t deserve is having to self-publish his fourth in the series. Are publishers nuts? What are they thinking dropping this fascinating series? I for one am glad to have found it. I saw Simon at last year’s Bouchercon and was hoping to see him at this one but he tells me he has to skip it. Let’s keep him on the bookstore shelves where he belongs.
My third foray was a satire by Robert Kaplow called Who’s Killing the Great Writers of America? We get a very funny peek into the (fictionalized) lives of Sue Grafton on the Orient Express, Danielle Steel and Curtis Sittenfeld in Paris, Tom Clancy (and a very funny cameo by Ann Coulter), and Stephen King, who is unwittingly thrown into the investigation of their tragic deaths.
There are, frankly, some very funny moments in this book but I got the feeling that Kaplow isn’t a fan. Kaplow gets into each writer’s styles and vamps on every writer’s constant worry about reviews and the next book. And the next.
There were a few cringe-worthy moments, however, but the stuff with Stephen King and especially Tom Clancy was priceless. Worth a read but I don’t know if it was worth the price of the ticket.
I am now delving into Jasper FForde’s The Eyre Affair and liking it so far. But I’m taking on the plane to Bouchercon Charlaine Harris’ latest Sookie Stackhouse and Neil Plakcy’s Mahu Surfer. Hope to see some of you there.