Thursday, 10 May 2007

David Dickinson: Goodnight Sweet Prince (2002)

Published: Constable, 2002

When one things of the British royal family in the later nineteenth century, the immediate image that comes to mind is that of the perpetually mourning Queen Victoria; perhaps secondly there are the mistresses of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. Less well known is the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, because he never actually succeeded to the throne, dying of influenza in 1892. The career of Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (known informally as Prince Eddy) was much more scandalous than that of his father - he is a candidate for the most badly behaved royal in British history, a post for which there is a fair amount of competition. It has even been suggested that he might have been Jack the Ripper.

Goodnight Sweet Prince, the first in Dickinson's series of Lord Francis Powercourt detective novels, takes the death of Prince Eddy as its starting point, to weave a conspiracy theory to rival the wildest stories that concern the death of Princess Diana a decade ago (and one not mentioned in the Wikipedia article referenced above). In Dickinson's fictionalisation, the influenza was a story dreamt up as a cover for the murder of the prince, portrayed as a hedonistic bisexual syphilitic bent on debauching everybody with whom he came into contact; and the subject of blackmail paid by his father. Clearly, an excellent and popular choice of murder victim, and yet someone whose death requires careful and discreet investigation. Working out which of the various motives actually led to the killing is the main point of the story.

As a novel, Goodnight Sweet Prince is somewhat uneven. The title, for instance, takes a sarcastic tone alien to the rest of the narrative - and Prince Eddy is no Hamlet! The first few chapters are a little dull, enough to make me consider giving up reading the book; but in the end I felt that I enjoyed the novel. The mystery is interesting, the background well researched, and the scandal appeals in the way that conspiracy theories in general tend to - fun, no matter how far fetched.

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