It’s Fall 2016 and Queen Elizabeth has a lot on her mind. Great Britain has voted for Brexit, the United States is conducting a presidential election, Prince Harry has a new girlfriend, Prince Phillip is planning to retire from public service, and Buckingham Palace – which is falling apart – is in the midst of an extensive and costly renovation program.
On top of all that, the Queen has seen her personal painting of the royal yacht Britannia, given to her by the artist in 1963, in an exhibit of maritime art in Portsmouth. Prior to Portsmouth, Her Majesty had last seen the painting decades ago, hanging outside her bedroom door, and she has no idea how or when it left her possession. The Queen wants her painting back, and she asks her Assistant Private Secretary Rozie Oshodi – an attractive, ex-army, Anglo-Nigerian woman who’s clever and discreet – to find out how the artwork came to be in the hands of the Royal Navy.
Rozie examines palace records, consults with past and present royal art curators, speaks to palace staff, and calls a Royal Navy vice admiral, but has trouble tracing the peregrinations of the Britannia painting. At the same time, Rozie learns that her friend Mary van Renen, secretary to one of the Queen’s advisors, is quitting her job because of nasty poison pen letters. Other women have also received vicious missives, including a royal housekeeper named Cynthia Harris and Rozie herself.
Worse yet, the day after the Queen returns from a visit to Balmoral Palace in Scotland, housekeeper Cynthia Harris is found dead beside the Buckingham Palace swimming pool. The police think Cynthia’s demise is an accident, but Her Majesty isn’t so sure, especially when she learns Cynthia was a spiteful shrew who’d been receiving menacing notes.
Unknown to most people, Queen Elizabeth is an amateur sleuth who’s been solving mysteries since her father was on the throne. Because Her Majesty is unable to run around looking for evidence, she makes Rozie Oshodi her deputy detective, and the duo investigate both Cynthia’s death and the source of the poison pen letters. When the Queen and Rozie find clues, Queen Elizabeth subtly points the police and her inner circle of male advisors in the right direction. Thus the men think they’re resolving cases, when it’s really the Queen and Rozie.
During her inquiries, Rozie ventures into an underground tunnel system that connects royal palaces and learns of a 1980s scheme called the Breakages Business, which was carried out by some members of the Queen’s staff. The Breakages Business was about spiriting away and selling royal belongings that wouldn’t be missed, like small gifts, plates, rugs, old draperies, half-used candles, tins of food, and so on – things whose absence wouldn’t be noticed. Since the 1980s, the royal accounting system has been tightened up, but Rozie and the Queen still fear theft may be connected with current crimes in Buckingham Palace.
In behind-the-scenes views of the royals we learn that Prince Phillip calls his wife Cabbage; Prince Charles will trim ‘the Firm’ when he takes the throne; Duchess Camilla works with domestic violence charities; Princess Anne is a stickler for punctuality; and the Queen is a very busy woman. In addition to dealing with red boxes full of paperwork every day, Her Majesty sits for portraits and sculptures, has garment fittings, walks her dogs, visits friends and relatives, and binge watches Murder She Wrote. Furthermore, the royal family entertains nearly a hundred thousand people each year, and every event is a major undertaking. For a banquet honoring the president of Colombia, for example, the dinner tables sport golden dessert stands and branching candelabras from the Grand Service, flowers from Colombia and Great Britain, and place settings that are measured with a ruler, to make sure the knives and forks are the correct distance from the edge of the table. Moreover, the Queen wears the Victorian Suite diamonds and sapphires with matching tiara, to spread a little extra dazzle.
Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers think she needs to be shielded from the real world, but Her Majesty shows her mettle again and again. I look forward to reading the further adventures of Rozie and the Queen.