Book Review – The Windsor Knot by S. J. Bennett

books, reviews

Rating: 2 out of 5.

As you can tell from my weekly rundown, I tend to get a little excited when I buy books. I’m one of those people who will buy an entire series of books without reading a single one. There are only two books in this series so far but I bought both pretty close together. Meaning there was more pressure to enjoy the book. If I hated it, I’d just end up with a book I was never going to read.

First off, I should probably admit that I’m one of those people who believe that the Royal Family is an outdated institution and is an unnecessary drain on society. Yet, despite all of that, I was obsessed with the idea of a cosy crime novel starring the Queen. I was expecting her to follow in the footsteps of Miss Marple and ruffle some police feathers. Obviously, I went in expecting it to pander to a more pro-Royal sentiment. After all, a crime novel isn’t the place to weigh up the pros and cons of a long-standing institution. Plus, I could hardly expect a book partly from her Maj’s point of view to criticise the Crown.

That didn’t matter because all I wanted was to see Liz doing some sleuthing. Set in 2016 just before her 90th birthday, the novel takes us through the days following a murder at Windsor Castle. After a soiree the night before, a young Russian pianist is found dead under suspicious circumstances. The police and MI5 quickly descend on the palace and the immediate hypothesis is that a Russian spy had been planted in the palace for some time before the incident. Although, this is not a theory shared by the Queen herself. It turns out that she has been secretly solving mysteries since her childhood. So, with the help of her secretary, Rozie, the monarch sets out to find out who the killer is.

The main reason I picked up this book was to see the Queen solving a crime. Strictly speaking, she doesn’t do much in the book. I know it would be hard to have the Queen actively investigating a murder but we don’t even have that many scenes in which she puts clues together. She just suddenly knows things. The majority of the footwork is done by Rozie as she visits people and asks probing questions. Although, even then it’s hardly an exciting investigation. Again, everyone just sort of stumbles across clues and there are a lot of coincidences along the way. Very little about the narrative suggests that the Queen is a remarkable sleuth. She’s just an old lady who has met a lot of people.

So, in terms of being a murder mystery, The Windsor Knot is very unsatisfactory. We spend way more time organising a horse show than we do chasing a killer. Even though this is being sold as part of the Her Majesty The Queen investigates series, the focus isn’t on the investigation. It’s on the Queen, which is why we get so many snapshots of her doing “normal” things. The parts of the book that irritated me the most were the constant attempts to humanise her. Everyone likes to pretend that she’s just some ordinary nonagenarian but she’s not. Yes, she will feel the same basic human emotions as the rest of us but let’s not pretend normal people can relate to her. There’s an awful lot about her situation that this book just ignores and it’s frustrating.

It’s not that this book isn’t fun and it’s not exactly a difficult read. It just lacks the charm and cosiness that a book like this needs. It all feels a bit fake and restrained. As if someone was worried about upsetting anyone. We’re seeing the institution through rose-tinted glasses. Like the fact that Rozie is Black. It’s great for representation but we can’t forget that Buckingham Palace asked for an exemption from laws that prevent race and sex discrimination. Why is this book repainting history to show the Crown as being more progressive than it really is? There are moments when this feels like shameless propaganda.

Something I’d cared much less about had it been a decent crime novel. But it isn’t. It’s forgettable. There is very little in the way of character development and the narrative is just too long. There are far too many unnecessary plot points and the POV changes very rarely add anything. It takes such a long time to get to the inevitable conclusion and it’s so unsatisfactory. The best crime novels will take you through the steps so you have a chance of solving them along the way. The solution to this basically comes from nowhere. There is no way that any reader is solving this themselves. It misses the mark on so many levels.

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