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QUEEN OF HEARTS by Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen
Berkley Prime Crime Hardcover
Pub Date: August 5th, 14

England, 1934. Lady Georgiana Rannoch is bored stiff playing companion to an elderly dowager duchess, so when her mother, actress Claire Daniels, announces she’s traveling to Reno to get a quickie divorce from her most recent husband, Georgie jumps at the chance to tag along. While crossing the Atlantic, the pair meets producer Cy Goldman who sweet-talks Claire into making a film while she waits for her split to become final. And just like that, Georgie’s headed for Hollywood to hobnob with movie stars.

Trouble seems to follow Lady Rannoch wherever she goes, though, and it appears America’s no exception, because it’s not long before Cy turns up dead and a valuable antique goes missing. Are the crimes connected? Local law enforcement doesn’t seem particularly well equipped to handle either investigation, so Georgie decides to pitch in by doing some detective work of her own. Are her sleuthing skills up to the task, or will her crime-related curiosity finally get her killed?

I’m going to kick off this review with a confession: I don’t like historical mysteries. In fact, as a general rule, I avoid them like the plague. I’m disclosing this bit of information not in the interest of fairness, but so you’ll understand just how much it means when I say that I flat-out adore Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness Mystery series. Queen of Hearts is the eighth installment, and if you’re excited at the prospect of a book that’s Agatha Christie meets P.G. Wodehouse with a splash of Dashiell Hammett thrown in for good measure, then Bowen’s latest should be your very next read.

The locked-room mysteries at the core of Queen of Hearts are cleverly crafted, to be sure, and Bowen’s pacing, plotting, and prose are top-notch, but what really makes this book shine are its characters. From the irrepressible Georgie to her catty mother Claire to her dashing yet destitute boyfriend Darcy to the gaggle of hapless (and hilariously named) upper-crust Brits that round out the cast, Bowen’s populated her fictional universe with wonderfully entertaining and fully fleshed characters in whose lives you can’t help but become invested. Cameos from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, and Bing Crosby only add to the fun.

Katrina Niidas Holm