Murder at the Ritz – Jim Eldridge

“The Hon. Edgar Walter Septimus Saxe-Coburg – better know to his colleagues at Scotland Yard as Detective Chief Inspector Coburg – pulled up in his Bentley outside the small terraced house of his sergeant, Ted Lampson, in Purchese Street, Somers Town.

As World War II rages across Europe and the skies of London, we’re introduced to ‘I’m really not royalty’ DCI Coburg. We’re straight into the major theme of the class wars, with our rather posh – but very down to earth, honest – main character compared to his working class sergeant. Coburg’s posh credentials make him a popular choice with other members of the aristocracy, who see him as more ‘one of their own’ – and so it is that he’s called in when a dead body is found in the famous, very expensive, hotel, The Ritz. And more: the victim has been found in the suites of the exiled king of Albania, but the surrounding security and secrecy are only going to make solving the crime that much harder.

I picked this book up after reasonably enjoying one of the books in the the author’s previous series, Murder at the British Museum. Like that, this is a light mystery, but not quite in the ‘cosy’ genre. I didn’t wholly realise we’d jumped from museums to hotels and a new series, to be honest, not to mention a new century. Still, while the World War era has little appeal to me, it did make for an interesting backdrop.

That mixed set of feelings stayed with me for most elements of the book. Coburg is a bit of a ‘Mary Sue’ (or Gary Stu?), if I’m being honest: so good and decent, but sexily dangerous (!), and – oh, it goes on, I’m sure you can imagine. I wasn’t that impressed with all this ‘perfection’. Taken superficially, he can be likeable enough as a lead, but it was so hard not to feel the unspoken entitlement, all downplayed in a nails-down-the-chalkboard fashion.

It’s not just the character; his life seems to be equally unlikely-ly charmed. Near the start he bumps into an old flame and of course it’s all as if nothing had ever split them apart, and they fall into each other’s… well, beds, quite frankly. I’m sure the 1940s weren’t particularly puritanical (well, you wouldn’t be, with bombs dropping nightly), and yet there was something jarringly modern in the set up and the behaviours in general. I wasn’t sure, for instance, that even the excessively monied patrons and somewhat private location would have made everyone quite so laissez-faire about a gay bar operating in full public knowledge, given the times.

All of which would have been more easily overlooked if the story had been stronger; alas, it was a little sub-average. It does pull together well enough by the end, but I think the ‘tragedy of the times’ was doing a little too much of the heavy lifting for my tastes.

I also really did not care for the ‘cameo’ appearance of one Commander Ian Fleming. It just felt like trying too hard.

So… sounds like I didn’t much care for the book. In fairness, it was an easy read with moments of interesting history, and I was happy enough to plough straight in the second volume. However, I am finding that now that I’ve put it down, I feel little draw to pick up any more. If you enjoyed the Museum Mysteries, these seem to follow the same template. Otherwise I wouldn’t really go out of my way to either recommend this or not.

Kindle: 285 pages / 44 chapters
First published: 2021
Series: Hotel Mysteries book 1
Read from 20th-24th September 2021

My rating: 5/10

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