Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: THE MURDERS OF RICHARD III by Elizabeth Peters

murders of richard iii cover This cover is pretty ugly, but totally makes sense once you read the book.

Thomas is a Ricardian (someone dedicated to proving Richard III is innocent of killing the two princes) who invites his friend and crush, Jacqueline Kirby, to a country house party where he and other Ricardians dress like historical figures and reenact the Battle of Bosworth, which Jacqueline thinks is hilarious. The weekend turns into a nightmare, though, when a prankster starts recreating the murders of Richard III. Although no one is seriously injured, Jacqueline is convinced the "accidents" are leading up to an actual killing. Can she stop the murderer in time?

I initially read The Murders of Richard III a long time ago, I think in middle school. It was my first encounter with both the concept of historical reenactments and the history of Richard III. After reading The Daughter of Time--which this book references a lot--I thought it would be fun to reread The Murders of Richard III and compare the two.

This is a really good mystery. Maybe not as good from a technical standpoint as The Daughter of Time (review here), but definitely as enjoyable, if not more so. Although dealing with same subject, The Murders of Richard III doesn't try to rewrite The Daughter of Time; instead, it's a twist on a country house mystery, with a large pool of suspects all of whom might be the culprit. Probably the biggest (and my favorite) twist in this book is that the sleuth is a woman and the "Watson" character is a man. There are tons of mysteries where there's a female Watson (Elementary, Perception, The Mentalist, etc.), and a few where the female sleuth has a female sidekick who tells the story (both Baroness Emmuska Orczy's Lady Molly of Scotland Yard--my review at PGP--and the Madame Storey series by Hulbert Footner spring to mind), but a male sidekick with a female detective is relatively rare. The Murders of Richard III are told entirely from Thomas' viewpoint, as he watches Jacqueline pick apart his well-known and beloved Ricardians like a lioness playing with a herd of antelope.

Jacqueline Kirby is my absolute favorite of all of Elizabeth Peters' heroines. First of all, she's a librarian so she knows EVERYTHING. Secondly, she's super sarcastic. Not in an asshole-joke way, either; in an I-honestly-think-you-are-an-idiot sort of way. Take, for example, this exchange between her and Thomas:
"I don't mind being Watson... I'll make admiring noises from time to time, and look as stupid as I can."
"Just be yourself," said Jacqueline.
Fortunately, Thomas, despite being a bit of bloke, does actually know a lot about women in general and Jacqueline in particular. "You just want somebody to listen to you and say 'yes' now and then," he says at one point. YUP, pretty much!

I also love how The Murders of Richard III kind of has a romance but kind of doesn't. Peters doesn't write formulaic romances, but the characters in her novels usually fall in love, or at the very least in lust. Sometimes this leaves me feeling cheated out of a HEA--like she withheld the romantic wrap-up just so no one could accuse her of writing romance--but in the case of The Murders of Richard III, I thought the conclusion was entirely appropriate to the story and Thomas and Jacqueline's relationship.

The only thing I struggled with in this book was actually the list of suspects. First of all, there's a lot of them, about a dozen; and secondly, because they're supposed to be historical figures for the entire weekend, everyone has two and sometimes three names! It took me until nearly the end of the book before I was able to sort them all out.

But that's a minor complaint. Overall this is a really good mystery. I'm glad I took the time to reread it and remind myself of why I love Jacqueline Kirby and Elizabeth Peters so much.


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