The Murders of Richard III: Jacqueline Kirby, #2 -- Elizabeth Peters
As promised, it's going to be All Elizabeth Peters, All the Time this week!
If you've been meaning to get in on the action, NOW IS THE TIME. As I've received so many lovely contributions (Did I mention that I'm totally still taking them?), I'll be running some of the longer ones over the course of the week, and linking everything up together at the end.
And now we come to the book that indirectly prompted the idea of this theme week in the first place! Last month, due to the news about the discovery of Richard III's body, I recommended Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time and Elizabeth Peters' The Murders of Richard III. That conversation led to a whole lot of squeeing over Elizabeth Peters, one thing led to another, and so here we are.
As in The Seventh Sinner, The Murders of Richard III stars Jacqueline Kirby, but she's not the character that the narrator follows: that honor belongs to Thomas Carter, a professor-friend of hers. (Of course, just like every other straight male within a fifteen-mile-radius of Our Ms. Kirby, he'd like to be more than friends, but she's infinitely good at side-stepping THAT sort of conversation.) Anyway, it turns out that Thomas has a semi-secret hobby: he's a member of a Ricardian society devoted to clearing Richard III's name. The group has recently gotten a hold of a letter that, if genuine, will do just that—so he asks Jacqueline Kirby to attend a weekend house party (complete with an authentic medieval feast and costumes!) so that she can take a look at the document and let him know what she thinks.
Once they get there and she meets the rest of the society, she surprises Thomas by being COMPLETELY ECSTATIC:
"Thomas, do you realize what this is? It's an English house party, darling, straight out of all those British detective stories I revel in. These people are classic characters. They couldn't be better if you had invented them. The doctor, the vicar, the village squire; the catty middle-aged hags and the sulky, beautiful young heroine, and the two juveniles—homely and nice, handsome and rakish. There is one missing. But I suppose it would be too much—"
The door burst open.
"Ah," said a voice. "You must be thinking of me—the missing character! The offensive, precocious small boy!"
(She then proceeds to display some amazing skillz in dealing with difficult children: she utterly DESTROYS young Percy with her outright, jawdropping, withering sarcasm. It's pretty impressive.) THEN, THOUGH, THE WEEKEND TAKES A TURN FOR THE OMINOUS WHEN A MYSTERIOUS PRANKSTER STARTS "KILLING" GUESTS OFF IN THE METHOD BY WHICH THEIR ASSIGNED HISTORICAL FIGURES WERE MURDERED. (Got that?)
But, as usual (and luckily for all involved other than the villain), Jacqueline Kirby is ON THE CASE! As with the first JK book, this one was originally published in the mid-'70s and some of it is a bit dated. Most glaring are the depictions of obesity as grotesque... many of those passages made me twitch.
Things I love about this one:
• While I compared Jacqueline Kirby to Mary Poppins and Chestomanci in yesterday's post, it occurred to me while re-reading The Murders of Richard III that if Nancy Drew was a little bit more crabby and a little bit less of a goody-goody, she could have grown up to be almost as awesome. They both have ridiculous stores of random information (as a librarian, JK's are actually believable), they both have lots of random skillz (JK knows karate and can occasionally blow smoke rings), and they are both exceedingly resourceful in any given situation (JK's Purse, of course, is a factor).
• Jacqueline has moved on from knitting to tatting, and it does not go well: by the end of the book, Thomas has confiscated her yarn because she kept getting so tangled up that her fingers would turn blue... so she starts smoking like a chimney again.
• As of yet, there has still been no mention whatsoever of the father of her children, and when it comes to the dudes, she is awesomely independent. Her admirers are legion, and she's not above playing the girl card to get what she wants—she is extremely willing to use her physical assets as a tool—but there is never any question about who's in control of any given situation: if she's in the room, she's the one in control.
• Though she's not perfect—her French accent, apparently, is terrible—she comes pretty close: Her glasses continue to serve as a "barometer of [her] moods"; she judges historical figures by their 'sexy factor'; as Thomas says, she has "a tongue like a viper"; she eats like she has a hollow leg; she is amazingly smug and arrogant (in a good way); she has a habit of breaking into medleys of seemingly unrelated songs (but there is always a method to her madness, and they often actually highlight her thought process); and she's JUST SO WONDERFULLY MEAN IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE:
"You know all this! You, who claim to have read every detective story ever printed . . . Of course you know it. You've read The Daughter of Time."
"Then why didn't you say so?"
"I lo-o-ove to hear you talk," said Jacqueline silkily.
• For whatever reason, I totally give Elizabeth Peters a pass on the adverbs. And believe you me, she loves the adverbs.
• There are mentions of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as lots of discussion about the conventions of murder mysteries and how they compare to this investigation, so, as in the first book, it gets all meta.
• While there are plenty of moments of more in-your-face humor, it's always the slightly more subtle stuff that kills me: "An unenlightened observer would have thought Kent had told them there was a bomb in the room. Faces turned pale; eyes glazed; Lady Isobel sank back in her chair with a gasp, and Mrs. Ponsonby-Jones tried to faint."
• There's a great bit where Thomas, in his costume, is thinking that skirts are so freeing and comfortable, wondering why "women were so determined to get into trousers"... and then promptly trips on his hem. Amelia Peabody would have approved.
Next up: Die for Love!
Book source: ILLed through my library. (I own it, but can't locate my copy.)