A Murder At The Castle aka A Murder At Balmoral (2022) by Chris McGeorge

The chef rushes over in a breathy panic to confirm what we all, deep down, already know. King Eric is dead.

Hardly surprising considering I poisoned their whisky. Now all I have to do is get away with it.

The royal family has gathered at Balmoral for Christmas, but this is no ordinary celebration. King Eric has dismissed all but a skeleton staff – one security guard and his chef, Jonathan Alleyne. Jonathan owes almost everything to King Eric, who he has served for decades. Even he doesn’t know what the King is planning and what he is discussing with each of his family one by one…

When the King falls dead after Christmas dinner, and the security guard disappears, the family finds themselves cut off by a savage blizzard. Jonathan is elected by the family to find the truth – with nobody else in the house, the murderer must be one of them. But what would be so important for someone to want to kill a King?

It’s Christmas mystery time, hurrah! Well, the first of two reviews of Christmas mysteries but the second one has barely a whiff of the season about it. This one has turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings, and a nice traditional mystery setting too.

To clarify who King Eric is, the book is set in the present day but in an alternate timeline where Edward VIII didn’t abdicate, so the author can say a few things about the Royal family without taking a direct pop at any individual. This is a well-thought-out set of characters as there aren’t any direct parallel characters to the existing Royals – it would have been very easy to have had a Prince Landrew character for example. The commentary is more in line with the nature of the monarchy in general rather than individuals’ specific flaws.

In case you’re wondering if this is a lecture on democracy rather than a murder mystery, rest assured that’s not the case. This is one of the best page-turners that I’ve read in a long while. Chris McGeorge does an excellent job of maintaining the classic mystery structure without falling into the pitfalls of the prolonged interview sessions that some books can fall into. The lead character of Jonathan is a great character, and his journey to the truth – he’s not the most capable of sleuths, but that’s not played for laughs – is engrossing to follow. The suspects – there are only about six or seven of them – are all nicely distinct and McGeorge also does something more than simply homage the Golden Age. As with A Fatal Crossing, the ending of the tale is far from conventional and all the more effective for it. Also there is one cracking bit of misdirection…

All in all, I think this is Chris’ best book yet. A highly entertaining mystery with proper Christmas decorations. Oh, but do ignore the “From The King Of The Locked Room Mystery” bit on the blurb because a) it’s not a locked room or impossible mystery and b) Chris McGeorge isn’t a pseudonym for John Dickson Carr…

A Murder In The Castle is out in the UK from Orion on November 10th in paperback and ebook – it’s already out in the US under the title A Murder At Balmoral. Many thanks to the publishers for the e-review copy.

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