The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor

The Royal Secret cover

The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor is the fifth book in his Marwood and Lovett series which I’ve really enjoyed reading, I think this one is even better than the previous books in the series.

The year is 1670 and two young disgruntled girls are plotting to kill a man. Mr Abbott is Maria’s drunken step-father and Hannah is a servant in the household who is regularly beaten by Abbott. Hannah persuades Maria to help with the process which she says involves witchcraft – a dangerous business given the times. After the death of Mr Abbott Marwood looks around the now deserted home of the victim and he suspects that murder may have been committed. It seems that Abbott had been entangled with some dubious characters and had been drawn into frequenting a gambling house which had ruined him.

Meanwhile Cat Hakesby, nee Lovett is continuing with her architect business after the death of her elderly husband, annoyingly most people seems to assume that she isn’t actually doing any of the work and leaves it to one of her employees. After the success of a very grand design for a poultry house she’s asked to come up with an even more ornate plan for the much loved sister-in-law of the French king – Madame, the Duchess of Orleans (Minette) who happens to be the sister of King Charles II. The project requires a visit to the proposed site of the building in France and the trip there is eventful.

While at the French Court Cat is amazed to recognise a Dutchman she had had dealings with in London. Why is Mr Van Riebeeck in disguise and using another name?

Marwood and Cat are thrown together after some unfortunate presumptions on Cat’s part had led to a coolness between them. Marwood is on the track of the Dutchman and Cat can help. Thankfully this moves their relationship along somewhat, I live in hope – especially as Marwood’s whole face is transformed by his smile.

This was a great read, very well researched and based around actual facts. It’s one of those books that I didn’t want to come to an end so I’m already looking forward to the next one in the series.

Thanks to HarperCollins UK for a digital copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

Fire, Burn by John Dickson Carr

Fire, Burn is one of John Dickson Carr’s historical crime/mystery books. I did enjoy it.

It begins in the 20th century, the 1950s – but as Detective Inspector John Cheviot travels in a taxi to Scotland Yard he suddenly realises that he is in a horse drawn carriage and by the time he gets out of it he has been transported back to 1829, to the beginnings of the police service and the Bow Street Runners.

Bizarrely, everybody at Old Scotland Yard seem to know exactly who he is, and Cheviot can recognise the historical figures he meets there. When a murder takes place at a dance that Cheviot was attending he gets to work to solve the case.

This book was first published in 1957 and I think Dickson Carr must have enjoyed writing it as it combines murder mystery with history, which was obviously something which he took a real interest in.

At the end of the book there are a few pages headed Notes for the Curious. The second part of which is called Manners, Customs, Speech. He writes about a diary entry of a woman called Clarissa Trant, in 1829 she used the phrase Tell that to the Marines – with her own italics and meaning as we do now that, the thing which she has written about is not at all believable.

I love that sort of thing, often when I read something – a word or phrase jumps out at me as being anachronistic, you know how quickly slang words go out of fashion and seem completely dated when people keep using them after their ‘use by date’. So I was amazed but pleased to see that ‘tell that to the Marines’ was being used way back in 1829. I really thought that it was an American 20th century phrase, mainly because I remember one of Alistair Cooke’s Letters from America featuring the phrase, apparently someone, I can’t remember who, had had their arm twisted by the Nazis during World War 2 and the upshot was that they had to do a propaganda broadcast on the radio. They ended it with words something like: Tell that to the army, tell that to the navy and above all – tell that to the Marines!! Luckily the Germans didn’t see through it.

Such a shame that P.G. Wodehouse didn’t think of doing something like that when he was coerced into making broadcasts in Germany, it would have saved him such a lot of trouble after the end of the war. But then, Wodehouse seems to have been so slow witted that he didn’t even realise that what he was doing was being of help to the Nazis.

Anyway, back to the book, as I said – it was an enjoyable read although that being ‘wheeched’ back in time thing via an ordinary mode of transport does seem a wee bit cliched, but maybe it didn’t in 1957. The last Woody Allen film I watched began in exactly the same way, but I enjoyed that too!