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!