Murder at the Palace

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Eleanor Roosevelt visits England in October, 1942, just prior to the Allied invasion of North Africa, as a personal emissary of the ailing president to the soldiers about to embark on this crucial mission; she will also visit London and the British monarchs. Soon after her arrival, Anthony Brooke-Harding, an equerry at Buckingham Palace, is murdered. On the night of his death, he was hosting an after-dinner cocktail party, attended by several people who had a strong interest in seeing him dead. One of the suspects, Sir Alan Burton, is a good friend of Eleanor’s; she thus becomes involved in the murder case in order to clear Sir Alan’s name. The facts of the murder rapidly become entangled in revelations of blackmail, stolen property, and the “highest” circles of crime in London as the details of Brooke-Harding’s unsavory life became apparent.

Author Roosevelt makes clear the strength of his mother’s character and her astonishing energy, which enables her to complete all the official duties required of her and ponder the details of the murder case on four or five hours of sleep a night. Because of her demanding schedule and social position, Eleanor Roosevelt is primarily an armchair detective, doing very little physical clue-finding, with the exception of being driven to suspects’ homes to ask questions. In terms of the amount of time spent solving the mystery, Sir Alan is the main sleuth and the First Lady is relegated to an advisory role.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s physical immobility in the story reflects her son’s rigid approach to writing this mystery. Instead of taking advantage of the wealth of historical detail inherent in the use of an actual person as sleuth, the author seems restricted and the story lacks spark. The characters remain shallow, undeveloped, and detached from the plot line. In fact, the warmest sketch in the book is the meeting between then-soldier Elliott and his mother. Perhaps author Roosevelt should collect his memories of his mother in a memoir, instead of writing indirectly about her in murder mysteries.