Book: King and Joker - Livre d'Or — LiveJournal

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Book: King and Joker
Tuesday, 19 September 2006 at 05:38 pm

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Author: Peter Dickinson

Details: (c) Peter Dickinson 1976; Pub Hamlyn Paperbacks 1985; ISBN 0-09-942380-4

Verdict: King and Joker is a lot more fun than I would have expected.

Reasons for reading it: rysmiel recommended it to me without explaining why it was worth reading.

How it came into my hands: It was part of my huge book-buying spree in Montreal last year.

I wouldn't normally even pick up, let alone get excited about, a murder mystery set in Buckingham Palace with an AH royal family. However, King and Joker is very, very cleverly done. The characterization is brilliant, and at that level I don't really care what the plot is. K&J is really exploring what it means to be royal in a 20th century constitutional monarchy, without descending into scoring cheap political points.

Princess Louise, in particular, is an excellent viewpoint character; she's an absolutely plausible young teenager, and the way the background is revealed is presented as her growing up and realizing that the adult world and adult relationships aren't as simple as she starts out imagining. That technique is an absolute triumph. It makes a lovely coming of age story, while the background itself, with the glimpses of lots of different varieties of relationships, is fascinating. The twists are really twisty and unexpected, but everything seems solidly psychologically plausible. It's also touching without being sentimental, Miss Durdon's arc in particular.

The murder mystery itself didn't really grab me; it suffers from a frequent problem of the genre, namely the murderer has to be a sufficiently minor character that there aren't too many clues too early on, with the result that the reader has no emotional engagement with that character and it's hard to care when the mystery is solved. Still, it's an excuse for a very good character exploration and a good story. The tension of the standard mystery setup where the killer claims more and more victims while the solvers dither about trying to work out whodunnit is well done, and makes the story exciting as well as interesting.

It's actually quite hard to explain what I liked so much about K&J. But it's just a really nice little piece where everything works as it should. Thanks for this, rysmiel!

Whereaboooots: Buckingham Palace
Moooood: pleasedpleased
Tuuuuune: All About Eve: December
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rysmiel: words words words
Date:September 25th, 2006 04:35 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:35 pm (rysmiel's time)
King and Joker is definitely one of those books where the virtues of the whole are so distinct from the sum of the elements that it's not really worth while trying to describe it ahead of time. *hug* I was pretty sure you'd like it, and that I couldn't really capture what about it was worthwhile in my own words.

Everything I've read of Dickinson's has been at least very good, though they are not all at the level of King and Joker. There is a later novel with some of the same characters, though not directly related enough for me to think of it as a sequel per se, called Skeleton in Waiting; it's a good book but not as good as K and J.
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