Bowen, Rhys. The Twelve Clues of Christmas.

NY: Berkeley, 2012.

This is the sixth entry in the “Royal Spyness” mystery series featuring Lady Georgiana Rannoch and set in Britain in the early 1930s. Georgie is 34th in line to the throne — well, 35th, now that her brother the duke has had another son — but she’s also completely without funds. What her father, the late previous duke, didn’t waste gambling went for death duties, so Georgie frequently finds herself casting about for ways to earn a living. Not easy when you’re part of the upper aristocracy, actually. She can hardly work as a shop girl. But she manages — usually. Now the Christmas season of 1933 is fast approaching and she’s looking for some way to escape Castle Rannoch.

And her sister-in-law, known as “Fig” (everyone in the peerage has a silly nickname, it’s a rule), doesn’t want her there anyway. Then she sees an advertisement looking for a paid hostess to come to a little village in Devon for the holiday season, to assist with a large two-week house party. Of course, the lady who placed the ad is delighted at the idea of even a fringe member of the royal family under her roof and Georgie is out of Scotland like a shot.

It’s a mixed bag of guests, including an aging military man from India and his wife, a wealthy couple from small-town Indiana, and a number of locals to round out the numbers, and she also discovers the party is meant to be a profit-making venture, but it all looks like fun. That is, until people begin dying all around the area, one per day. Is there a connection among the deaths? Could they all possibly be from natural causes? Georgie has been involved in the solving of murders before and pretty soon she’s up to her neck in the local community. At least her mother, a famous and still glamorous ex-actress, is also staying in the village (sharing a house with Noel Coward, with whom she’s working on a play), and her granddad, a Cockney ex-cop from London, is there for the holidays, too. And then her boyfriend, Darcy O’Mara, the heir to a minor (and also semi-impoverished) titled family and a part-time government spy, shows up as a member of the party. Maybe they can put their heads together and figure this thing out yet.

This series is determinedly lighthearted but it’s well-written and well-plotted and a lot of fun. Pretty good mysteries, too. I confess the explanatory pattern to the deaths went right past me — I didn’t catch on until Georgie herself did — and I read a lot of mystery novels.


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