It’s April, 2016, and Queen Elizabeth is at her favorite residence, Windsor Castle. But on a lovely spring morning, the monarch is troubled. Last night she hosted a dine and sleep where a select group of guests enjoyed a lovely dinner, entertainment, and then stayed overnight in the castle. One of the guests, however, a talented Russian pianist who danced a wicked tango, was found dead in his room, the murder scene suggesting a sordid death. The crime must be investigated, of course, while preventing the press – especially Britain’s notorious tabloids – from splashing the gory details on their front pages. The metropolitan police are investigating, as is Britain’s intelligence services. Yet the one who will crack the case wide open will be the queen herself. Yes, unbeknownst to her many subjects, the queen is brilliant at solving mysteries – discreetly – letting others take the credit.
SJ Bennett’s The Windsor Knot imagines a royal who, despite her age, is more than up for the job of keeping the monarchy chugging along, no matter what obstacles crop up. This queen is spry, observant, shrewd, and kind. (If you keep picturing Olivia Coleman while reading, that image coincides with the character portrayed in the novel.) What does take some effort, however, is putting aside life inside the royal family as described by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during their explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey. (Bennett’s mystery was published on March 9, two days after that CBS broadcast.) In the book, the queen muses “if only Harry could find a decent girl, that would be something.” Well, we know how that turned out! And the queen’s private secretary Rozie, is a tall, slim, and stunning Black woman, whose presence in such a prominent role somehow doesn’t produce the kind of negative headlines that drove Meghan from Britain.
Bennett does manage to construct a mystery with enough twists and turns to keep the story interesting. In between, there are tidbits on the running of the castle, along with rules and protocols that can trip up the most savvy and elegant of guests. Because the dead musician was Russian, initial suspicion falls on Putin, well known for killing enemies on British soil. But would he order a hit on someone inside Windsor Castle? And why would this young man be targeted?
With Putin as a possible link, anyone within the royal household who has any relationship with Russia is put in the hot seat, something that the queen finds, although necessary, very painful. Two of her most trusted servants are distraught and she sends Rozie with Fortnum & Mason baskets to smooth things over. But when two more bodies turn up, there’s pressure to find the killer and head off what could soon become a political crisis.
The Windsor Knot, listed on Amazon as Book 1, suggests that “Her Majesty the Queen Investigates” will be a series. And because the royal family, and particularly the queen, remains a source of unending fascination for fans on both sides of the pond, Bennett may be onto something. Yet other factors might affect the series. The queen is now 94, Prince Philip, who is a major character in the book, is 99. Would the sleuthing job pass, along with the crown, to Charles or William? We will have to see.
Top photo of Windsor Castle, Bigstock