The first in a series of gentle, witty mystery novels, The Windsor Knot wears its most obvious influence lightly, in a Miss. Marple-esque story with a novel, timely twist. Bennett’s amateur sleuth is none other than her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Told largely from the perspective of the Queen and her staff during her 90th decade, the story posits an intriguing ‘what if’: Bennett considers how the most connected ‘little old lady in a hat’ on earth might use her not inconsiderable powers for good, solving mysteries in secret while accepting no credit.
The plot here concerns the scandalous, violent death of a young Russian pianist during a ‘dine and sleep’ event hosted by the Queen at Windsor Castle. Satisfying without being convoluted, the mystery combines human frailty with international politics, enough to engage an anxious, scattered reader seeking a neat puzzle.
Better yet, Bennett manages a deft feat of literary drag in The Windsor Knot: humanizing a woman who lived much of her life as one of the most famous figures of a turbulent century, without fawning or sentimentality.
Her Elizabeth is intelligent but not intellectual, politically shrewd without engaging in politics, a woman of her generation with many of the attendant biases and flaws. There’s also the satisfaction of seeing the great and good (like the Director General of MI5) wrong-footed by her subtle, unfailingly polite questioning.
Most engaging are the Queen’s affectionate, occasionally acerbic exchanges with her bluff husband Philip, the endless, complex ‘below-stairs’ relationships, loyalties, and slights. Amongst the wider cast we meet the Queen’s star staffer, the tough, warm and capable Rozie. All demonstrate a lightness of touch, with the promise of more mysteries, subplots, and a sprinkling of statecraft for Book 2.