When newlywed Lady Georgiana Rannoch finds herself at loose ends, that can only mean trouble for the star of author Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series. The Last Mrs. Summers is the new, and 14th, novel in the tale featuring the charming heir to the British throne–well, if being 34th in line counts. Wanting a respite from her new duties as mistress of Eynsleigh Estate, Lady Georgiana is happy to accompany her friend to inspect the woman’s newly inherited cottage. The jaunt leads the women to an uninhabitable ruin and a chance encounter with an old acquaintance that ultimately leads to murder.
In addition to the Royal Spyness series, the New York Times bestselling author has published 17 novels in her Molly Murphy series, and another nine books in the Constable Evans series. In addition to her historical series, Bowen’s the author of four standalone novels, including Farleigh Field, The Tuscan Child, The Victory Garden, and Above the Bay of Angels, which came out earlier this year. In it, a staff member of Queen Victoria’s kitchen learns there’s palace intrigue–and murder–is on the menu. Her fifth standalone, The Venice Sketchbook, debuts April 2021.
When it comes to murder, Rhys Bowen knows her business. She’s been nominated for–or won–every major award in the mystery fiction world, among them the Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Barry, and Macavity. Her books have been translated into 22 languages, including Chinese and Arabic.
Currents: The Last Mrs. Summers is your newest addition to the popular Royal Spyness series. Tell us, what has Georgie gotten herself into?
Bowen: This book was written as a complete homage to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. So, Georgie goes with her friend Belinda to Cornwall and they find themselves in a big creepy house with a scary housekeeper, a mystery surrounding the death of the first wife and a feeling of danger. Of course, being Georgie, there are also lighter moments in the story, and a hint of romance too.
Currents: Lauded Irish hatmaker Philip Treacy has said, “Royalty is completely different than celebrity. Royalty has a magic all its own.” Your character Lady Georgiana is 34th in line to the British throne. What do you think it is that fuels our widespread obsession for the British royal family?
Bowen: I think it’s because they seem to lead a fairy-tale life, in palaces with lots of servants and they wear crowns and robes, and everyone curtseys. They don’t seem quite real and what little girl hasn’t played at being a princess when growing up? In the USA we yearn for pageantry, don’t we? We have our parades and marching bands. My heroine, Lady Georgie, of course, might be related to the royals but leads an all-too-ordinary life with no real home and no money. That’s why we can relate to her!
Currents: Molly Murphy’s life–an Irish immigrant woman in turn-of-the-century New York City–is quite different from that of Georgiana. Will we see more mysteries involving Molly Murphy? A cameo in a standalone, perhaps?
Bowen: I can’t give you details yet, but plans are underway for a new Molly book. Stay tuned.
Currents: Interest in the era in which you write continues to increase in popularity and demand. Aside from well-written books–of course–how do you account for this romance?
Bowen: One of the reasons we seek escape in the past at the moment is that our lives feel so uncertain. The past is safe. We know the outcome. Also, the 1930s are such a fascinating time with stories like Edward and Mrs. Simpson, and also characters like Noel Coward, not to mention Hitler. So many contrasts and so many great stories.
Currents: You’ve published an incredible 45 novels. Take me back to that exciting day of your debut, what you experienced, and tell me how that compares with publication day today.
Bowen: Yes, I’ve published 45 mysteries and historical novels but before that I had a long career writing in various other mediums. My first professional work was a play for the BBC when I worked in BBC drama. After that a career in children’s books, YA, TV tie-ins. When my first children’s book was published when I was in my 20s. I was so naïve and clueless that I had no idea what starred reviews meant or that I got a whole page in the New York Times. But you know each book still gives me a thrill when I hold it in my hands for the first time.
Currents: You’re a member of Jungle Red Writers, whose blog postings, and appearances at writers’ and fan conferences, as well as bookstores and libraries, are a delight. When not entertaining readers, what do you do to support each other?
Bowen: We have an incredibly close relationship, mostly at distance. We chat by email every day. During the pandemic we have Zoomed together about once a month. We are so supportive of each other. We share ups and downs, health scares, losses. They are wonderful women, and I feel blessed to have them as part of my life. Of course, when we do get together, mostly at conventions, we drink wine, eat good food and laugh a lot.
Currents: Your next standalone novel, The Venice Sketchbook, will be out in the spring. Tell us about that and what else you're working on.
Bowen: The Venice Sketchbook will be another big standalone historical novel, set in three different time periods. It's a story, obviously set in Venice, of a secret life and unveiling of secrets. A young woman in the present is left a sketchbook by her great aunt. Such fun to write, including the time I spent in Venice in 2019 doing research.
Now, I'm writing the next Royal Spyness book. It's another Christmas story, since The Twelve Clues of Christmas did so well. This one is called God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen and from the title you might guess that a few royal personages might be involved. Another fun book to take my mind off current events!