First Lines: "Men find me intimidating," boomed Miss Hardiman. "That's the problem."
Partners Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge have gained a bit of notoriety from the case they solved the previous month. They're hoping that this means more revenue and a bigger office for the Right Sort Marriage Bureau. Sturdier furniture and a secretary would be nice, too. When Lady Matheson walks into the office, she just might be the answer to their prayers. Working for the Queen "in some capacity," Lady Matheson hires them for a discreet investigation. Princess Elizabeth has set her heart on a dashing Greek prince, and a blackmailer is trying to throw a monkey wrench into the whole affair.
The palace needs to keep this out of the gossip circles, but it's also necessary to find out if the prince does have any skeletons in his closet. Every ounce of skill, intelligence, and discretion Sparks and Bainbridge possess are going to be needed to bring this investigation to a successful conclusion. After all, that bigger office and the secretary are at stake.
Having enjoyed the first book in the series, The Right Sort of Man, a great deal, I looked forward to A Royal Affair with a great deal of anticipation. I am so happy to say that this second book met and exceeded all my expectations. Isn't it great when that happens?
Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge are two excellent characters. They both bring completely different skill sets to the table. Gwen is widowed, with a young son who is in the custody of his rich, titled grandparents. Gwen loved her husband with all her being, and when he was killed, she fell to pieces and spent some time in a sanatarium. Her mother-in-law is never going to let her forget this or willingly give up control of her grandson. Gwen is determined to prove that she's capable of raising her son. She brings knowledge of the upper classes (and all that entails) along with her intelligence and finely tuned intuition to the partnership with Iris Sparks.
Iris Sparks is a Cambridge graduate whose past is shrouded in all sorts of things, not least the Official Secrets Act. She's out of the spy business, but she brings that bag of tricks, her quick intelligence, and sense of humor to The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. The women have become fast friends-- almost sisters. Gwen is the perfect choice to help Iris with her PTSD, and Iris knows how to deal with Gwen's grief. Their repartee is one of the joys of A Royal Affair. It's light, it's witty, it's quick, and the pages turn faster and faster.
With a finely crafted, intricate plot that reminded me of "The Sting" from time to time, one thing was obvious: Sparks' past in the spy business was going to be an integral part of the story. That made me worry. You see, I don't really like spy stories. What I prefer are characters who are out of the business yet able to use their skill sets for straightforward, honest good, not some shadowy, convoluted outcome with neither heart nor morals. I was so relieved at how Montclair dealt with all the spy shenanigans!
In fact, I was enchanted by the entire book. If you're in the mood for something light and witty, something that has some meat on its bones, some solid historical research, and a tightly woven plot...something that's Pure-D Fun to read, pick up a copy of A Royal Affair. Better yet, begin at the beginning with The Right Sort of Man (even though A Royal Affair stands alone well). You really shouldn't miss an opportunity to spend time with Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge.
Now begins the hard slog of waiting for book three.
A Royal Affair by Allison Montclair
Minotaur Books © 2020
eBook, 320 pages
Historical Mystery, #2 Sparks & Bainbridge mystery
Source: Net Galley