“The Twelve Clues Of Christmas” is a Christmas Cracker of a book where the prize is solving an ingenious set of Christmas-themed murders, the wrapping is a colourful evocation of a 1935 English Country House Party made all the more believable because it’s being constructed for paying guests by gentry who can no longer fund their way of life, and the explosive energy comes from an engaging heroine who is instantly likeable, even though she’s thirty-fifth in line to the throne.
it takes talent to sustain a truly light-hearted tone, especially while delivering a clever and complex plot for multiple murders and making gentle fun of the English class system. Rhys Bowen makes it look easy.
The puzzle of the murders, which seem at first to be accidental deaths, is beautifully constructed. It’s complex, dramatic and feels just a little far-fetched until the moment when all was revealed and I was left slapping my forehead in a “why didn’t I think of that?” way while grinning at the impudence of the idea.
The Country House Christmas Party, running from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day, provides the perfect setting and cast of characters to deliver both a rich suspect pool and lots of gentle humour about the nuances of the English Class system. The paying guests include an American family, a new money rich Yorkshire family who are in Trade, and a formidable Dowerger who has out-lived everyone else she might have spent Christmas with, all of whom are expecting to experience a “genuine old-fashioned English Christmas.”
The main energy of the book comes from our the heroine: Lady Georgiana Rannoch. She is a wonderful creation: young, penniless, well-connected but with plebian as well as royal roots, vulnerable but unable to step back from doing the right thing, even when it puts her in danger and in love with a man she may not marry and who is often absent. The story is delivered as instalments in her journal, so her personality shapes the whole tale. Fortunately, she is fun to listen to, easy to like and impossible not to root for.
I strongly recommend the audiobook version. Katherine Kelligran’s award-winning narration is extraordinary. She gets everything right. Her pacing enhances both the humour and the tension. She gives all her characters easy to identify voices, the accents she uses are spot on and she can even sing the Christmas Carols in a believable upper-class English voice.
“The Twelve Clues Of Christmas” is the sixth book in the “Her Royal Spyness” series about Georgiana Rannoch but it can be read as a stand-alone story. Diving into this Christmas tale with no knowledge of the previous books didn’t cause me any problems or expose me to any important spoilers but it did make me hungry for more so the “Her Royal Highness” books will be on my 2020 TBR pile.