Book Review: Royal Escape by Susan Froetschel
One afternoon as a harried day of work was approaching an end, I surreptitiously checked my personal email in the hopes of a word from a friend or joke from a relative. The first message that caught my eye announced an Author Talk that evening at one of the local libraries. The author was Susan Froetschel who would be discussing her book, . Though exhausted, I found my interest peaked by the fact this evidently wasn’t just an author trying to sell her latest novel but was more of a writing workshop for aspiring mystery writers. The author briefly discussed her book, gave a short reading, then launched into the workshop. Royal Escape
Sometimes at such workshops you hear a preponderance of generalities that while well meaning, don’t really help much with any of the specific problems a writer frequently faces. Not this time. The author provided detailed suggestions for how to hook the reader in the first few pages, character development, point of view (my personal weak spot), motivation, plot and endings that work. She gave out worksheets and exercises some of which we completed on the spot and went over with her feedback and comments, and a number of others to take home.
Though not one for exercises or lots of pre-development, I completed each one and later found myself incorporating much of what I’d worked out during those activities into my manuscript as well as changing parts that I didn’t realize weren’t working well prior to the workshop. All I know is that my arrogant psychologist who’s life is being ruined, though he has no idea by whom, began to develop characteristics which made him seem a little less worthy of compassion and my lunatic who’s carrying out all the crimes against said Psychologist develop characteristic that made him seem a little more worthy of understanding due to his horrifically abusive childhood and far more sinister. After completing several worksheets, suddenly, my characters were becoming three-dimensional!
Yet that wasn’t all I got out of the evening. When at an Author Talk while some feel obligated to buy a book, I do so only when it seems like something I’d truly enjoy reading. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely certain about his book, at first. I generally don't like narratives that follow famous real life story lines too closely. You don’t get more famous than the British Royal Family and Princess Diana. Still, from the description it seemed as if it could be a unique spin on even such well known events so I bought a copy mostly out of curiosity as to how the author would attempt to pull off a plot and characters which weren’t too recognizable to fully come across as fiction. “And where could the mystery possibly come in?” I also wondered.
Figuring it would be one of those books I picked up for a few chapters every now and then, I was surprised when I read straight through it in a matter of hours, ignoring a ringing phone and my favorite TV drama. While there were resemblances to what we were shown of the members of the Royal family, the story was unique enough to allow me to forget the similarities.
This Princess was smart and savvy. As opposed to moving ahead blindly, she analyzed each situation she encountered in order to achieve what was best for her children. She avoided staff attempts to control her every move especially knowing most of them had less than honorable intentions. She even learned a way to secretly communicate with her sons when separated from them through a disguised Blackberry despite having no computer knowledge prior to this endeavor. And all with a serene smile on her face such that no one would guess she was contemplating anything more serious than the sublime shrimp entree set before her. But behind that cool exterior she was developing complex plans in her mind to foil the palace’s machinations, and spend more time with her sons.
Then comes an unsuccessful assassination attempt which kills her driver and injures Elena and her younger son. This results in even greater regard from an already admiring public who now dub her a hero for saving her son and attempting to free her driver from the burning car. The Royal Family are furious at the attention and whisk her sons off to various Royal haunts, refusing to allow her to see them or even know where they are. It's hard to imagine how they believed they'd succeed given the years she’d spent among them and being made aware of her strength and assertiveness as she’d fearlessly walked away from a Royal Marriage and promise of becoming Queen.
As for the mystery and intrigue, I didn’t have long to wait. The author begins each chapter with a few lines spoken by mystery characters hinting at a plot against the Princess. The plot seems to be aimed at preventing Elena from continuing to be the most beloved and admired of the Royals despite no longer being formally part of the family. As the story continues it becomes clear that, whoever these mystery figures are, they will stop at nothing to remove her from the picture. They aim to gain control of the Royal Heir. Yet her love for her sons and commitment to ensuring they are raised with the her own ethics and morals instead of the detrimental lessons being taught by the staff. She has reason for concern as the staff are almost exclusively in charge of raising the children while they’re with the Royal family. This fact provides her with the courage and ability to fight whatever danger comes her way.
This book is for anyone who loves a good mystery, especially one that doesn’t follow one of the predictable plot lines running through many recent releases. It's a must read for those who love an utterly charming Princess who follows the path she believes is right even when faced with harm, unrelenting obstacles or the Queen's displeasure to define her children's live course. You will quickly find yourself falling into the pages, feeling as if you are experiencing all the trials and tribulations as well as the victories of the magnificent protagonist, Elena Princess of Wales.
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© 2017 Natalie Frank