On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service (A Royal Spyness Mystery), by Rhys Bowen

The Royal Spyness series features Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 35th in line for the British throne and engaged to an Irish-born spy for the British named Darcy Kilhenny.

It’s 1935 and Darcy is off on an assignment. Because Georgiana is in the line of succession she has been a bit late in asking Queen Consort Mary (wife of Edward V) for permission to marry Darcy. He’s Catholic and it’s illegal for a Catholic to take the British crown. She receives a letter routed through her brother in Italy from Mary asking her to meet with the Queen.

It turns out that Mary has more than Georgiana’s wedding on her mind. Her son Edward the Prince of Wales has been traveling in Italy with “that woman” Wallace Simpson. The queen has learned that Edward will be attending a party in Italy and she’s concerned that Mrs. Simpson may manage to arrange a divorce from her husband and elope with the prince. She wants to send Georgina on a trip to Lake Como on the Swiss/Italian border to keep on eye on things.

Lucky coincidences. Georgina is far from the richest royal. She’s been wanting to go to Lake Como to visit a friend from school who is single and pregnant and who has been writing from Lake Como begging for a visit, a trip that would have stretched Georgina’s already thin budget. Also, the party is being held at the villa of another school friend who married well.

Georgina makes the trip. When she gets there she learns that Prince Edward is meeting with some German officials and that Darcy is working undercover as a gardener at the villa. She also learns that her former actress mother is attending the same party, and unusually pours on the motherly love in hopes Georgina will help her with a bit of a blackmail problem. When one of the guests at the party is found dead in a locked room all of Georgina’s other plans have to be set aside.

The historical thread regarding the Prince of Wales is historically accurate. He was dating Mrs. Simpson, much to the consternation of most of England, and did have some fascist sympathies. He would take the crown in 1936 but would abdicate in less than a year to marry newly divorced Simpson.

This is a lighthearted book about being royal on a budget while solving a mystery. It’s filled with model characters with British, German, and Italian backgrounds. Georgina is also a sexual innocent in a world of leering counts and much less innocent friends. It has the feel of Agatha Christie books set in foreign locations with oddball English travelers and unusual foreigners. The humor is rich and the whole book was a fun read.