Desert Isle Keeper
The Royal Secret
Originally published in the UK under the title The Love Letter, Lucinda Riley’s The Royal Secret is finally available to US readers. It’s a novel that’s hard to categorize as it contains elements of romance, mystery, and a touch of historical intrigue, but whatever one chooses to call it, it’s a fast-paced read that’s sure to keep readers enthralled.
Joanna never imagined she’d be working for a seedy London tabloid. She dreams of being a serious journalist for a respectable publication, but those jobs are hard to come by, and she’s had to make due with a position with the notorious Morning Mail. One of her assignments is to cover the funeral of James Harrison, a renowned actor who has recently died at the age of ninety-five. While at the funeral service, Joanna notices an elderly lady who seems to be in a great deal of distress, so she escorts her outside and helps her get back home.
Joanna doesn’t linger long at the house of the unknown woman. Her boss won’t be happy with her for walking out in the middle of the service, so she hurries back and soon puts the encounter out of her mind. But a few days later, she receives a letter from the woman, the contents of which set in motion an investigation with far-reaching consequences not only for Joanna and those she loves, but also for the British monarchy.
We spend a great deal of time with Joanna, but we’re also treated to the perspectives of a few other characters. Zoe, James’ granddaughter, is a successful actress in her own right and has an eleven-year-old son whose father is no longer in the picture. In fact, most people don’t even know who he is, and Zoe is determined to keep it that way. But when she sees him again for the first time since before their son was born, all her convictions are thrown to the wayside as she is once again caught up in the all-consuming power of love.
Then there’s Zoe’s brother Marcus, who is a bit of a disappointment to his family due to his wild ways. He spends most of his time drinking and becoming involved with all manner of unsuitable women, and it’s pretty clear he feels rather aimless. He hoped to inherit a large sum of money upon James’ death, but his grandfather left him a rather nominal sum, giving the rest to Zoe and her son. Marcus is quite upset by this, especially when he learns he is to become responsible for managing a fund for aspiring young actors. He hates the thought of having to work, and he sets about trying to find a way to get out of what he feels to be an odious task.
Simon is Joanna’s long-time friend, an enigmatic man who works for the British government. He’s not permitted to discuss the particulars of his job with those around him, so he passes himself off as a low-level civil servant. Unfortunately for Simon, his personal and professional lives are about to collide in an unexpected way. James Harrison was keeping a dark secret, a secret that those in power are desperate to keep hidden. Simon becomes an unwilling pawn in a game that could turn deadly at any moment, especially if Joanna continues to look into the contents of the mysterious letter she was sent.
Once I started reading, I absolutely could not put this book down. It’s full of delicious scandals that put me in mind of some of the sweeping historicals of the 1980s. No one is who they seem to be, and I loved trying to figure out who the bad guys really were. Certain plot twists are a bit over the top, but I didn’t care. I still gobbled this book like candy.
Joanna is a lovely heroine. She doggedly pursues the truth, even when it becomes clear that doing so has put her in danger. Normally, I dislike it when characters knowingly put themselves in harm’s way, but Joanna’s intelligence made it much easier for me to root for her. She didn’t run around half-cocked; instead, she approached things in a rational manner that went a long way toward minimizing the danger she was exposed to.
There is a really sweet romance that blooms between Joanna and Marcus. At first, I didn’t think they would be right for one another, but as time went by and I got to know each of them a bit better, it became easier for me to understand what drew them together. Each has some emotional baggage to deal with, but they are mature enough to do this in a way that worked for me. I dislike romances that are extremely angsty, so I was pleased that these two handled their business like adults instead of like overly hormonal teenagers.
If you’re looking for a fun, suspenseful read with strong romantic elements, I strongly recommend The Royal Secret. At over five-hundred pages, it might be a bit intimidating to some readers, but it moves along quickly and I finished it in just under two days. It’s only the second book I’ve read by Lucinda Riley, but I definitely plan to pick up more of her backlist before too long.