1886, and Fred Archer, the so-called Tinman, is the finest jockey in the land. And then one day, in front of his sister Emily, he pulls a gun and blows his own head off. The inquest decides that Archer was unhinged by typhoid and took his own life in his delerium. One man smells a rat, though, and decides to investigate what caused Archer to take such desperate measures. No ordinary man, though – this is Albert Edward of Saxe-Coburg – Bertie to his friends, heir to the throne of the United Kingdom and its Dominions to everyone else.
And so Bertie narrates his adventures in coming to the truth of the matter. Was did Archer mean by his last words “Are they coming?” What was the truth behind the suspicious result of Archer’s final race? And as people start dying as he gets closer to the truth, will the United Kingdom be looking for a new heir?
After the great A Case Of Spirits last month, I thought I’d try another of Peter Lovesey’s Victorian novels, this time the first of the Bertie series – only three books long, but I figured it was worth a look. And what presents itself is a very difficult book to review without spoiling it.
First of all, it’s an entertaining read – it’s written in the first person and Bertie has a way with words. He (well, Lovesey) is determined to entertain the reader as he goes along. It’s very difficult to use the “posh” voice and make it even bearable, let alone entertaining. See, for example, Blotto, Twinks and the ex-King’s Daughter by Simon Brett, a book I started recently but couldn’t make it past chapter three. Peter Lovesey does an admirable job here – there are a couple of occasions when Bertie got on my nerves a bit, but for the most part, he’s very enjoyable company.
As for the plot… well, either it’s more of an adventure rather than a mystery OR there’s a late-ish twist that turns everything on its head. Can I say more than that? Not really – only that as a mystery, it’s fairly disappointing. The denouement didn’t contain anything remotely surprising. Given the cleverness that usually appears in a Peter Lovesey plot, I was astonished that at the end of the day, things were pretty obvious. Everything is arrived at in an extremely fun way… but to be honest, as a mystery I found it lacking. I can see that a less well-read armchair detective might be fooled…
Not being able to recommend it as a mystery doesn’t mean I won’t be returning to Bertie though. As said, I enjoyed his company and he has got two more tales to tell – both of which, along with a lot of other books by Peter Lovesey, are now available as ebooks for a decent price.