All the Queen’s Men by SJ Bennett

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Those among us who are keenly missing Queen Elizabeth II will be delighted by British writer SJ Bennett’s whodunnit that’s close to the throne. All the Queen’s Men features the Queen as an amateur detective who has long been connecting the dots to some mysterious goings-on at the palace.

Complete with complex characters such as her assistant private secretary Rozie Oshodi, a former soldier, and Sir Simon Holcroft, private secretary to Her Majesty, the book opens with the discovery of a body in the Buckingham Palace swimming pool. That simply won’t do for Her Royal Highness! At first glance, housekeeper extraordinaire Cynthia Harris’ horrible death is deemed accidental, but upon further reflection and digging deeper, the Queen and Rozie are sure it was murder!

The author provides an inside look at the behind-the-scenes workings of Buckingham Palace while exploring the possibility of corruption in high places. Three months earlier, Her Majesty tasked Rozie to track down a favorite painting of the royal yacht Britannia that hung outside the Queen’s bedroom. Believable prose of conversations among Elizabeth and her staff as well as Prince Philip add to the novel’s entertainment factor. One of the many operational inner workings is the Royal Navy’s tech update, and it’s at the Ministry of Defence’s exhibition that Elizabeth’s sharp eye uncovers her missing painting. She decides to discuss it with the Duke of Edinburgh, and through their conversations readers get a glimpse of their long-time partnership in service to Great Britain in a humorous way.

“How d’you know it was ours?” He still didn’t look up. “Because it was that one,” the Queen said sharply, feeling suddenly and vertiginously sad at his lack of interest. “I know my own paintings.” “I’m sure you do. All seven thousand of ’em. Well, tell the staff johnnies to hand it over.”

Delivered in an entertaining style, this follow-up to The Windsor Knot is a stand-alone novel set amidst the backdrop of historical events including the Brexit controversy, a new prime minister and Donald Trump’s tumultuous 2016 election. The Queen is feeling a bit nostalgic with the passing of her cousin, but she keeps soldiering on. As Rozie follows the convoluted path of her sovereign’s beloved painting, she spends a weekend at Sholto Harvie’s Cotswold cottage at the request of the Boss. Sholto served as deputy surveyor of Her Majesty’s artwork during the 1980s, and the Queen feels the retired art historian might be able to shed light on how her painting changed hands. Determined to uncover the mystery behind the painting’s misappropriation, Rozie can’t help but be taken in by Sholto’s disarming charisma and his charming cottage, complete with a real Cezanne.

Meanwhile, back at the Palace, the press has gotten wind of the housekeeper’s tragic demise, and gossip threatens to tip the delicate balance Queen Elizabeth has fostered during her reign. The police are summoned in the form of Chief Inspector David Strong, whose name is a misnomer. Poison pen letters, more murders and art fraud continue as Rozie finds herself the latest victim of misogynistic messages. Rather than depart the employment she enjoys, Rozie confides in the Queen even as she is still entrenched in the mystery of the misplaced painting. Mrs. Harris’ unexplained past in the art world combined with the earlier death of art conservator Daniel Blake are neatly interwoven into the plot. Creepy Eric Ferguson and hot-tempered Mick Clements round out the suspects Rozie encounters.

Rumors about underground tunnels connecting the royal palaces swirl about as Rozie maneuvers through the triumvirate of Elizabeth’s senior male members of her Household–Sir Simon, Sir James Ellington, and Master of the Household Mike Green–who assure the Queen that they have everything under control. But the Queen is a force to be reckoned with, and she does not shy away from death and shady dealings. The Queen leans on Rozie as the female pair of amateur sleuths uncovers who is behind the nasty notes that scare off Sir James’ secretary Mary van Renen and disturb Cynthia Harris, the much-maligned murdered housekeeper. Along the way, the dynamic duo detects an illegal ring of household employees who have been stealing royal belongings from the Crown for three decades! Together, Queen Elizabeth and Rozie connect the crime to the Breakages Business.

With believable dialogue, the cast of characters’ backstories add flavor to this royal high jinks. Known for her engaging mysteries, Bennett ties together all the loose ends in the final chapter that will have readers cheering “Long live the Queen!”