Uneasy Lies the Crown
Uneasy Lies the Crown is the thirteenth book in Tasha Alexander’s series of historical mysteries featuring Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband, the dashing Lord Colin, agent of the crown. I knew this before going in and decided to give it a go anyway, so it’s entirely possible that fans who have read each preceding instalment may not have the same issues with it that I did. With that said, however, it’s unlikely that, had I read any of the others, I would have been able to forgive the stodgy and poorly executed sub-plot which drags down the story as a whole.
On her deathbed, Queen Victoria most improbably passes a secret missive to Lord Colin Hargeaves, instructing him to execute her final wishes. Colin and his beloved wife and partner in sleuthing, Lady Emily, are determined to puzzle out the mysterious message sent to them by the Queen. But on the day of Victoria’s funeral a man is found run through with a sword in the Tower of London, dressed in clothes identical to those worn by King Henry VI in a portrait, and propped up with fishing wire and wooden slats to keep him in a standing position. That murder is just the first of the medieval-inspired crimes our sleuths must try to solve.
Emily desperately wants to be involved in the investigation, but naturally the men in charge refuse to allow her a foothold. So through the back door – and with her husband’s help – she sneaks into brothels and supper clubs, in an attempt to try to figure out the mystery. When the coroner rules that the victim – an upstanding and mild-mannered greengrocer named Mister Gummidge – drowned before he was struck by arrows, Emily’s gears begin grinding – even more so when a second victim dies in the ghastly manner meted out to King Edward II. More people die in the gruesome ways medieval kings met their makers, dressed up in relevant costumes – and Emily tries to tie the crimes together through a dead prostitute and a widow, a mining accident and a revenge plot. All the while, Collin continues to receive letters threatening the life of the new king and must try to protect Bertie (as Edward VII was known to his friends) while figuring out if the murders and deaths threats are connected.
In a parallel story, we flash back to the lives of the pious William and Cecily Hargeaves in the 1400s, ancestors of Colin’s who must deal with royal conspiracies of their own. While William is wounded off fighting with Henry IV during a long, slogging campaign into France, Cecily becomes embroiled, along with her childhood friend, Adeline, in intrigues of infidelity on the home front. Both William and Cecily must cling to their faith if they wish to survive and see one another again.
My feelings about Uneasy Lies The Crown are mixed. The mystery is decently absorbing and twisty and I really loved Emily’s narrator voice; she was charming and romantic and wonderfully bloody-minded. More formal Colin and their adventurous son, Henry, all popped to life as interesting characters. Two smart cookies solving a mystery together will always intrigue me and keep me reading, and their continuing love story is beautifully put together.
But the secondary storyline is where the novel derails. The William and Cecily portions of the novel feel oddly tacked on and have little relevance, beyond their connection to Colin, to the main plot. There’s a lack of definitive split between William and Cecily’s points of narration that feels inelegant and rather awkward. The simple pat morality of those chapters aren’t very challenging, and those featuring Cecily are extremely repetitive, and she is so pious and muted, and spends so much time shying away from conflict and praying, that she seems barely a character but more of a plot construct. It happens multiple times before the plotline finally moves along and manages to get anywhere interesting.
Uneasy Lies the Crown is a fairly decent mystery with a great heroine, but it is dragged down by its subplot and can’t, ultimately, even be described as an average quality read.