I have read a lot of different variations on the crime fiction theme this year. This year was supposed to be the year that I revisited my love for the classics and made an effort to add more non-fiction to the mix but it has turned out to be the year when I fully indulged my love of crime fiction.
I have read crime fiction by Scandinavian authors, their popularity boosted by the success of Stieg Larsson, their fan base growing because their own series’ are so depraved and diabolical. I have been introduced to the brilliance of Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin, hurrying along the streets of Edinburgh along Rebus and Fox, getting a first-hand account of the underbelly of this most inviting tourist city. And of course, of course, I’ve made sure to spend time with that scion of crime fiction, the Queen herself, Agatha Christie.
It’s no wonder then, that I was drawn to Julia Stuart’s The Pigeon Pie Mystery. This one promised a host of wacky characters and a Victorian-era murder. Aside from Sherlock Holmes, I haven’t read too many murder mysteries that take place during the Victorian era.
So Princess Alexandrina, nicknamed Mink, is the daughter of the Maharaja. She is British-born, unmarried and used to being excessively wealthy. When her father dies under fairly scandalous circumstances, it doesn’t take long for her to find out that she is in fact penniless. The government keeps writing to her, telling her she has to sell her home and she has no idea what she will do, having seen nothing of her intended, Mr. Cavendish, since the death of her father. Queen Victoria herself comes to the rescue, offering Mink a grace-and-favour apartment at Hampton Court Palace.
Having literally no other options, Mink and her maid, Pooki, make the move. Hampton Court Palace is filled with all kinds of bizarre residents and staff from the Countess who refuses to pay for anything to the housekeeper, Mrs. Boots who is convinced that she is going crazy as she keeps seeing a monkey in red velvet trousers all over the place.
Mink and Pooki are settling in nicely and are invited to an Easter residents’ picnic. Pooki makes a few Pigeon Pies for the picnic, one especially for General Bagshot as he can’t have eggs. But after eating the pie, the General starts to feel unwell and hours later he’s dead.
That’s a lot of set up right? That’s kind of how I felt reading it. It took a really long time for the murder to even take place and then I felt like there was a lot of screwing around as Mink tries to find out who was responsible to save Pooki from a hanging. I enjoyed the bizarre English characters but I had a hard time keeping them all straight as they flitted in and out of the narrative. In the end there’s even a love story but I found that it was completely secondary to the mystery and completely unnecessary. Another one of those books where the ending seems to be wrapped up too quickly, after you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on the foundation of it all.
I’m not sure that all of this was enough to put me off Stuart’s work in the future. I know that she has at least two other books out there and I’m curious if this was a one-off for me. But if I’ve learned anything from all this crime reading, it’s that poison really is a woman’s weapon.