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by Barbara Cleverly
Soho, September 2011
391 pages
ISBN: 1569479879

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this ninth book in the Commander Joe Sandilands series, Cleverley introduces policewoman Lily Wentworth as a noteworthy assistant in manoeuvring through the complexities of dealing with assassination attempts and the politics of Russian and Irish emigrés. At first it seems as if Cleverley is juggling too many story lines to be historically believable but the mystery unravels to reveal the connections between murder and espionage.

After many failed attempts to kill public figures, assassins finally succeed in gunning down a retired admiral on the doorstep of his house in front of his wife. Admiral Lord Dedham, a national hero, managed to wound his two assailants before succumbing to a third bullet. The desperate attempt of the gunmen to escape in the cab they commandeer is thwarted by the quick- thinking driver who delivers them instead to the first available police station. An hysterical female passenger caught up in the escapade is escorted home to a Mayfair address after giving her statement. Later, when the police attempt to question her further because the fatal bullet is revealed as having come from the direction of the taxi, she is nowhere to be found. The arrested gunmen prove to be Irish nationalists.

As head of a special force, Sandilands holds himself responsible for Lord Dedham's death, even though the admiral had declined the protection Joe had set offered. He feels even worse as he was a friend of the Admiral and his family.

When Sandilands is informed that an attempt will be made to assassinate a member of the royal family at an upcoming ball organized by a Russian emigré princess, he takes no chances. He places Wentworth as close as possible to the Prince of Wales by transforming her from a uniformed officer into a charming dance partner for the prince. A Serbian prince, after regaling the Prince's table guests with wild tales of having participated in the assassination of Rasputin, suddenly collapses, the victim of poisoned food. Lily's earlier precaution of switching plates at the table probably spared the Prince of Wales. Her keen observations of both the guests and a mysterious figure among the serving staff at the ball are vital to the ultimate solution of the mystery connecting these two murders. Sandilands upper crust interactions with both the Dedham family and the Russian Princess provide the final link in discovering the rather surprising motivations behind these murders.

Cleverly's skill with narration is matched with her ability to convey both her characters' social class and emotional drama in her dialogue. Lily Wentworth speaks in two accents. Though she comes from a modest background, she is also educated and sophisticated beyond her class. She conveniently has a talented aunt who owns a high class dress shop and outfits and advises Lily in all matters social. Wentworth is a strong character, definitely a blue stocking and a challenging partner for Sandilands Cleverley frequently includes details in her fiction that are based on historical fact, so it is no surprise to discover that one of the first female CID officers, a Lilian Wyles, was actually appointed in 1922.

As a staunch supporter of women's rights, Commander Sandilands is very much taken with Wentworth, recognizing her talent as an investigator and supporting her position within the police force. There are discreet hints about an attraction between the two in spite of the difference in their social standing.

BLOOD ROYAL was actually the first Joe Sandilands book that I read and it very much stands on its own. I was so impressed with Cleverly's writing and her ability to draw you into her story that I immediately read her first of the series, the award-winning THE LAST KASHMIRI ROSE, written in 2001. But if you are unfamiliar with this series, there would seem to be no harm in starting with this one, as it seems to be signalling a new direction and certainly offers much to enjoy.

§ Ann Pearson is a photographer and retired college Humanities teacher who lives in Montreal

Reviewed by Ann Pearson, January 2012

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