A Murder at Balmoral
reviewed by Pam Guynn
What might have happened if Edward VIII had not abdicated the throne in 1936? In this alternative history a locked-room type mystery occurs when King Eric reigns in the United Kingdom. The royal family has gathered at Balmoral Castle in Scotland for a traditional Christmas. However, King Eric has given nearly all of the staff Christmas Day off. The only ones remaining are head chef Jonathan “Jon” Alleyne and the head of security, Tony Speck.
A blizzard isolates the castle as Jon works tirelessly to provide a delicious meal for the family. During the preparations, King Eric meets individually with each member of the royal family. As he prepares to make a toast and an announcement after dinner, he dies. Jon believes he was poisoned and is placed in the role of an amateur sleuth. He feels out of his depth, but wants to do what is right by his friend of 33 years. Why would one of the king’s own family members kill him?
There is a helpful character list at the beginning of the novel followed by a short chapter from the unknown killer’s point of view. Much of the story is from Jon’s point of view and starts 10 hours earlier when Jon takes the king’s breakfast to him on Christmas morning. The characters had depth and Jonathan’s character went through a transformation as he responded to events. While floundering, overwhelmed by the task, and unsure of himself, he steps up and experiences growth during his investigation.
The descriptive narrative transported me to Scotland where intrigue and secrets abound in this storyline. There are suspenseful moments as well as moments that seemed to drag. The pacing is uneven; especially in the first two-thirds of the novel. Despite this, the plot is twisty and kept me interested and there are multiple mysteries to be solved as the story unfolds. However, it is never explained how King Eric is descended from King Edward VIII and I kept thinking about this question throughout the book. The conclusion hints at what might happen to the characters, but is very open-ended. I wanted a more definitive conclusion to the book. One of the most interesting aspects was the information around lines of succession as imagined in this alternative history timeline. It was certainly thought-provoking.
Overall, this was an entertaining novel. Other themes explored in the novel were relationships with and between servants, trust, honesty, deception, power, greed, love, family, lies, secrets, and suspicion.
I purchased a copy of this novel. All opinions expressed in this review are my own. Publication date was October 25, 2022.
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