Secret Guests
by Black, Benjamin

The secret World War II relocation of the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret to an old estate in Ireland becomes subject to the devastations of the Blitz, the resentments of grieving townspeople and suspicions about the girls' true identities.

Benjamin Black is the pen name of the Man Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville. Black's books include The Black-Eyed Blonde, Christine Falls, The Silver Swan, among others. He lives in Dublin.

With London under attack during the Blitz, the safety of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret is of premier importance, so they are surreptitiously moved to the isolated estate of the Duke of Edenmore in the Republic of Ireland. Accompanying the girls are an MI5 agent, Celia Nashe, and an Irish detective, Garda Strafford. Nothing about this dislocation is easy. The girls, especially Margaret, are unhappy; the negotiations to keep them in a supposedly neutral country are fraught; and the prospects for keeping the princesses safe, especially in a country hostile to the British, seem unlikely. With all of that, surprisingly little happens in the first two-thirds of the book. Save Margaret, few of the characters-the diffident Strafford, the dutiful Nashe-do much to intrigue readers. On the fringes of the story, however, much is happening, and long-simmering hatreds, global and personal, rise to the surface, resulting in an action-packed conclusion. Black, author of the Quirke series, set in modern-day Dublin, seems more comfortable in noir territory, but his foray into royal historical mystery, while gathering steam slowly, packs a punch in the end. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

During German bombing raids on London during World War II, the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are secreted away to Ireland for protection. Clonmillis Hall has seen better days. A large estate in rural Ireland belonging to the Duke of Edenmore, Clonmillis, by virtue of Ireland's neutrality in the war, feels a world away from the bombs raining down on England. But during a secret meeting in Dublin, arrangements are made: King George's two young daughters need to be kept safe during the Blitz, and remote Ireland seems the perfect place. The result is a series of domestic and professional frictions of nationality, class, religion, and gender. There is Dick Lascelles, the louche, charismatic diplomat in charge of the arrangements. Detective Garda Strafford, whose Anglo-Irish background sets him somewhat apart from his countrymen, oversees the estate's security. Special Agent Celia Nashe, posing as a governess, is caught between her professional duties and being a surrogate caretaker to the serious elder princess, code-named "Ellen," and the fiery younger girl, "Mary." There is the irascible Duke and his household sta ff, who have varying levels of knowledge of the plot, and then there are those outside the estate who would seek to undermine the safety of everyone on it. Black (the pen name of Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville) continues his storied career in the same vein as his most recent novel, Wolf on a String (2017), a historical mystery set in Prague, though his return here to his native Ireland is a welcome one. As ever, Black's gifts of rich description and deft characterization are on display, and if the first half of the novel is more leisurely than a typical political thriller, its second half positively gallops. When you're done binge-watching The Crown, pick up this multifaceted wartime thriller. Copyright Kirkus 2019 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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