By Chris McGeorge
Publication Date: October 25, 2022
My first thought when I started reading this was the timing wasn’t too good for its release (since as of the date of writing this review, the Queen just passed away last week.) But it’s made clear up front that although this deals with a murder of a member of the British Royal Family, the family is fictional and, interestingly enough, is created on the assumption that Edward VIII never abdicated his throne. That’s about as far as the factual Royal Family is concerned as near as I can tell (not being British and not being very knowledgeable on that particular subject).
Now that I’ve gotten my lack of British Royal lineage out of the way, let’s move on to the story.
On Christmas Day, King Eric calls his family together at Balmoral. They include his wife, Majorie, who has never been made Queen; his fresh-out-of-exile younger brother David, whom no one likes; his eldest daughter Emmeline, who is upset her fiance was not invited; his youngest daughter Maud, her commoner husband Thomas, and her two sons Matthew and Martin. All of the servants have been sent away from the castle, save head chef Jon and head of security, Tony.
The family anticipates that King Eric will name his successor during his Christmas speech. But after the first sip of whiskey, the king falls dead. Who killed him? Every member of the family had a motive, except perhaps for 18-year-old Matthew, the favorite to be named the next king. As a blizzard rages outside and Tony is inexplicably missing, the family turns to Jon to investigate Eric’s death. Aside from being in way over his head with no skills transferable from Chef to Detective, Jon finds his loyalty to the Family and the Crown severely tested as he tries to tease apart what went horribly wrong during this Christmas celebration.
Quite an intriguing premise. A (fictional) royal family in a locked room mystery. Should be easy with only about nine people in the castle, but the comings and goings were well placed so that any of them could have poisoned the king. At first I was a little surprised that the chef was the only point of view character, but then gave myself a mental palm-to-the-forehead. Of course, he was the only one not a suspect. The only problem with that is that the reader never really gets to know any of the other characters. And this is important because their motives rest on their feelings toward the king and being a member of the royal family in general.
For about the first three-fourths of the book, things hummed along well. There were a few frustrating bits when obvious clues were never picked up on because Jon either ignored them or forgot about them almost immediately. I suppose it made sense for the character (considering the stress) but my brain was screaming, “But what about…?” Only for that clue to become super important later, yet also still unexplained.
Overall, the plot was good, but I never quite connected with any of the characters. If you love a unique mystery and aren’t too concerned about it being character-driven, this one is for you.
Overall, 3 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Thank you to NetGalley Penguin Group Putnam for providing the ARC. I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.