If Prince Edward hadn't died in 1892 he would have succeeded to the throne of England, instead of his brother George, and reigned as King Victor I, to be succeeded in his turn by his grandson King Victor II, the present monarch. Much would have remained the same, but much would have been very, very different. E.g., as a young man the king had refused to go into the army and insisted on having a medical training. In the same spirit his daughter, the teen-age Princess Louise, from whose point of view the story is seen, attends Holland Park Comprehensive. The palace is troubled by a series of practical jokes, humorous at first, but becoming increasingly unpleasant, until a corpse is discovered on the throne of England.
“Peter Dickinson has a fantastic eye for creating imaginary settings that come across as real and believable. They add to his mysteries a special extra fillip of enjoyment. He out- does himself this time.. . . A most unusual and original mystery. ”
To be candid, this book is one of my favorite books ever, no matter what genre we are considering. So my review is very biased and subjective. This is the third time I have read the book, and I have loved it every time.
King and Joker crosses genres, being both alternate history and a mystery. The book is set in 1976 (when it was written), and most of the story takes place at Buckingham Palace. The story centers on Princess Louise, who is 13 years old. She is mature for her age, but also very naive, as one would expect in such a situation.
Princess Louise is a lovely character, as is her brother Albert. Most of the rest of the characters did not appeal to me so much, not unlikable but just not drawn in as much depth. Princess Louise often visits her former nanny, Durdy, who has been nanny to many princes and princesses. Durdy (or Miss Ivy Durden) is very old and only being kept alive by the various machines she is attached to. The reader gets some of the history of the present king from Durdy as she reminisces.
I will be honest and say that I would not consider this a great mystery novel. I enjoyed it most for the coming of age story of Princess Louise and the beautiful way that the story is told from her point of view. Yet, it has quite enough mystery for me, both in discovering who could be getting away with practical jokes in such a secure environment and who perpetrated the murder that happens as a result of the practical jokes.
There is a sequel to this book, Skeleton in Waiting, published in 1989. I have read that book and I found it disappointing. Probably my expectations were too high since I love King and Joker so much. Yet some reviewers like it, so I would not discourage anyone from giving it a try. Which I plan to do again someday.
Some other resources:
Jo Walton has a great discussion of this book at Tor.com. She says:
"It’s a mystery set in an alternate history. It’s not a story about the alternate history, though the background is well worked out and the revelations are well fitted in to the story."
Analytical review by cjwatson.
This reviewer mentions one of my least favorite plot points which involves the nanny's nurse, Kinunu. I definitely had reservations about that part of it, at least at this reading of the book, and I think that element could have been handled better. Too much of a plot spoiler to go into it further, though.
I have read several other books by Peter Dickinson. Only one has been reviewed on this blog: The Last Houseparty.This book is a submission for 1976 for the Crimes of the Century meme at Past Offences. I have been surprised to find that I have enjoyed reading books for the 1970's and 1980's as much as those from earlier decades.
Publisher: Pantheon Books, 1976.
Length: 222 pages
Series: Princess Louise, #1
Genre: Alternative History / Mystery
Source: I purchased this book.