Wednesday, September 16, 2015

King and Joker: Peter Dickinson

About the Book (from the author's website):
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. ”
Publishers Weekly

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.

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Publisher:  Pantheon Books, 1976. 
Length:     222 pages
Format:     Hardcover
Series:      Princess Louise, #1
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Alternative History / Mystery
Source:    I purchased this book.


23 comments:

  1. Tracy, I'm glad you enjoyed it, but its not one that has me intrigued or interested if I'm honest. Probably just as well!

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    1. Oh well, I am not surprised. Probably not any Dickinson books you would like but if I think of any....

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  2. I just picked up one of his, DEATH FO A UNICORN, but will keep an eye out for JOKER too - thanks Tracy.

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    1. Sergio, I have read good things about DEATH OF A UNICORN, and I hope to read it soonish.

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  3. I discovered Peter Dickinson through his wife the author Robin McKinley. I enjoy both of the very much. I would agree with you about the books, really enjoyed the first one, the second one not so much.

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    1. Mac n' Janet, I haven't read any of Robin McKinley's books but I would like to do that. Every year I do a Fantasy challenge, and it would be good to include one of her books and one of Dickinson's fantasy books.

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  4. What an interesting concept, Tracy! I'm not usually much of a one for alternative history - I'm really not. But that mystery aspect is intriguing. And it is interesting to speculate what might have been. Glad you enjoyed this.

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    1. It is funny, Margot, that I usually enjoy alternative history stories but I have to force myself to read them. I am always reluctant. I would guess when I first read this book, I did not know that it was that genre when before I read it.

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  5. Tracy, a three-time read says a lot about this book. I will certainly look it up,

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    1. Prashant I am sure you would enjoy any mystery fiction by Peter Dickinson. Each book is different. I cannot remember if you care for fantasy. He did write a good bit of fantasy and young adult fantasy, but I have not tried them yet.

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  6. Tracy, you inspired me to read it too, and Skeleton, so my blogpost will be up soon...

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    1. PS love that cover - it's not the edition I have. Perfect for you: is that the one you have?

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    2. I am very glad you decided to read it and Skeleton, I will see what you have to say about the 2nd book. I pulled it out when I pulled out my 2nd copy of King and Joker.

      Yes, I do have the edition with the skull on the cover pictured here. The one I have is the first U.S. hardback edition. I still have the paperback edition I read the first time, with a joker's costume but no face. I must have run into the skull edition when I first started buying used books online because I have had it a while, but no record of when I purchased it.

      Today was the first day of the book sale. A very good day.

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    3. I have a 'skulls in hats' Pinterest page, and this cover qualifies :-)

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    4. That sounds like a set I would like to look at, Rich. Looks like I am going to have to figure out how to log in to pinterest.

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  7. Dickinson has been on my reading radar for quite some time now but haven't really got round to him. Your enjoyment of this book makes him want to read a book of his quickly.

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    1. I have enjoyed several of his books, neer. Some are strange and some pretty straightforward. He has a beautiful style of writing. I haven't tried any of his fantasy books,

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    1. Thanks, Mathew. I hope you try this book someday. And like it.

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  9. Me too - this sounds really interesting. I've had his The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest on my list of books to buy for ages, I'll add this to the list too.

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    1. I have Glass-Sided Ants' Nest and have been meaning to read it, Rich, but haven't yet.

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  10. I'm intrigued by this one, Tracy. I have tried to read Peter Dickinson in the past - picked up two novels of his but couldn't get through either of them. This one, however sounds like something I'd like. I love alternate history angles.

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    1. I will be interested in what you think of this book if you do try it, Yvette. His books do differ greatly and I have not loved all of them. One of later Inspector Pibble novels I did not like at all, but I still want to try some of the earlier ones.

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