The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday
This royal Mills & Boon whodunnit is ripe for Netflix
by Sarah Ferguson
368pp, Mills & Boon, (0844 871 1514), RRP£14.99, ebook £6.99
As EM Forster wrote: “What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote it.” Substitute the first “man” for “woman”, and the second “man” for “the Duchess of York”, and that should clarify whether A Most Intriguing Lady will be gracing your ormolu bedside table.
The Duchess’s debut novel,
Her Heart for a Compass, which featured the Titian-haired, befreckled beauty Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott – any resemblance to the author entirely deliberate – was a surprise bestseller in 2021. It was written in collaboration with Mills & Boon regular Marguerite Kaye, and they have paired up again for A Most Intriguing Lady, an historical romance-whodunnit hybrid.
Despite the Duchess telling Town & Country magazine that “this is going to make Fifty Shades of Grey just a walk in the park”, let me reassure those of a tender sensibility that, although there is kissing, sighing and so forth, it’s all splendidly vanilla – unless you misread the reference to delving inside the grouse butt.
Here we follow Lady Margaret’s overlooked sister, Mary. She is not only a skilled gymnast and a crack shot, but turns out to be quite the drawing-room detective, solving domestic mysteries pertaining to lost brooches and irregular charity outgoings.
She teams up with Colonel Trefusis, whom she calls “Tre”. It’s well written – densely written – for a self-selecting audience that understands the term “tobacco silk” and doesn’t automatically think of Samsung when they hear the phrase “Sir George’s trusty black charger”.
But the melding of two distinct genres, romance and whodunnit, doesn’t quite work. Although both are predicated on tension, a romance requires stronger characterisation and a detective story demands more pace. There are good reasons why Mills & Boons – and in my conventincarcerated youth, I hungrily devoured every one I could lay my chaste little hands on – usually sweep you along in a frisky 200-plus pages. At over 350, this doorstop drags on a bit, though its attention to historical detail is admirable.
Still, if you think you might enjoy you absolutely will – and I can visualise