A Death in Diamonds by S J Bennett: A fast-paced plot littered with clues and red herrings – book review –

A Death in Diamonds by S J BennettA Death in Diamonds by S J Bennett
A Death in Diamonds by S J Bennett
When a high-ranking cleric and an escort girl are horribly murdered in a mews house just a mile from Buckingham Palace, a young Queen Elizabeth II is soon drawn into the investigation.

Already troubled by the fear that someone in her close circle of flunkeys is trying to sabotage her, and still very much finding her feet as monarch, the Queen is in need of an ally she can trust implicitly.

In a delightful series that has caught the imagination – and won the hearts – of an army of readers, Yorkshire-born author S.J. Bennett sweeps us away to first the opulence of a French state visit... and then deep into the inner workings of the Palace for another right royal mystery.

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The aim of this cosy, quirky The Queen Investigates series was to celebrate our late monarch’s lifetime of dedication to public service, her role in all our lives, and her impact on the world at large, and her death in 2022 has added an extra layer of poignancy to the stories.

And so in this fourth book, Bennett winds back the clock to 1957 and the earlier days of the Queen’s long reign, taking us behind the walls of palaces and royal homes to meet up again with an unexpected super-sleuthing superstar sovereign who is beginning a royal lifetime of solving murder mysteries in between her more regular and recognised duties.

Only four years after her Coronation, and the mother of two young children, 31-year-old Queen Elizabeth is finding her way in a challenging world, and in a country which looks very different to the one her father, King George VI, inherited in 1936.

As she travels the world in her role as British sovereign, the Queen is advised by what her husband Prince Philip calls the ‘men in moustaches’... her father’s old courtiers, not all of whom have her best interests at heart, as she discovers at a state banquet at the Louvre in Paris.

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When her speech mysteriously goes missing on the night, the situation is only rescued by typist Joan McGraw back at Buckingham Palace who had, very fortunately, remembered the speech verbatim thanks to her photographic memory.

Convinced that one of the old guard is trying to sabotage her, the Queen learns of a gory double murder at a mews house in Chelsea. A young escort woman, wearing only silk underwear and a diamond tiara, had been strangled and the Dean of Bath was discovered nearby, garrotted and pierced through the eye with a long, sharp implement.

According to the police, a high society card game was going on downstairs that night. One of the players must surely have committed the murders but each of them can give the others an alibi. And when someone very close to her is implicated, the young Queen is drawn into the investigation.

The Queen knows she can’t face these challenges alone and needs support from someone who can offer both brainpower and absolute loyalty... someone she can trust. And who better than the unassuming Joan McGraw who, it turns out, is an ex-Bletchley Park code breaker with more than just a good memory. With Joan now on the case as well, the Queen’s investigation into the murders can begin in earnest...

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With a supporting cast of real and fictional players – including some wonderfully caustic cameo appearances by Prince Philip, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret – and a plot that blends a fascinating exploration of the royals’ public and private lives with an intriguing mystery, this is an exhilarating romp that brings us the Queen, her family and her courtiers as we have never before seen them.

But it is the incomparable Queen Elizabeth who is undoubtedly the shining star of Bennett’s new royal blue mystery, picking up perfectly her nuances and familiar characteristics, and painting a dazzling, humorous and totally convincing portrait of the canny, compassionate and dedicated monarch without losing sight of her dignity and integrity.

Best supporting roles are the clever, discreet and resourceful Joan who is more than able to operate under the radar of the ‘men in moustaches,’ and the fearlessly outspoken and irreverent Prince Philip whose throwaway lines and walk-on parts prove so often to be the hilarious scene-stealers.

With its richly detailed and authentic portrayal of court life and diplomacy, a fast-paced plot littered with clues and red herrings, revealing insights into the early years and real-life events of the Queen’s reign, and moments of real pathos, this is a wonderfully entertaining series with a pleasing – and distinctly British – flavour.

(Zaffre, hardback, £16.99)

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