M, King’s Bodyguard: A Novel
British writer Niall Leonard has written an excellent historical mystery (M King’s Bodyguard Pantheon 264 pages $27). The book takes us to January 1901 in London where Queen Victoria lies on her deathbed. The historical details are wonderfully drawn, the mood exquisite, though I have one quibble. Nobody would have been seeing pictures of “dreadnaughts” in 1901, since HMS Dreadnaught was not launched until 1906, giving a label to all future battleships.
William Melville he is the personal bodyguard for the crown and has been summoned to the family gathering which includes none other than Victoria’s grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm, who greatly loved his grandmother. Melville meets the Kaiser’s personal aide, Gustaf Steinhauer, and learns that there is a plan afoot to assassinate the Kaiser during the coming funeral procession.
A young foreign woman, who may be either a language teacher or a prostitute or both, appears in his office with information concerning three foreign anarchists who are apparently the instigators of the plot. Melville’s boss vetoes his suggestion that Scotland Yard swarm the radicals’ hideout and take no prisoners. Instead, Melville and Steinhauer attempt to capture the radicals and are mostly foiled in a melee of gunfire. Somehow their lovely mole also escapes.
The chase is on through the netherworld of London and into the boudoir of the rich and famous. Steinhauer and Melville are like Holmes and Watson had the time frame is just about right. despite their differences of allegiance, the two complement each other well and several times come to the other’s rescue. However, Melville suspects the German isn’t what he claims to be, a puzzle not solved until the end.
it’s difficult to put down, even though you know that the Kaiser is not going to be blown up. The conclusion has a nice twist concerning the lovely young woman furnishing inside information. It’s a solid B+.