Aslan Kennedy is the leader of a spiritual retreat on Saint-Marie, an island in the Caribbean. Every morning, he rises with the sun, takes five clients for a swim and then meditates with them locked inside a tent made of paper in the middle of a lawn. Each client drinks a cup of tea, then puts on a blindfold and listens to whale song, each of them dead to the world around them. But one morning, the tea seems to be drugged – and when the clients awake, they find one of their number, Julie, standing over Aslan with a bloody knife, having apparently stabbed him five times.
Enter Detective Inspector Richard Poole, that most English of policemen. While it seems an open and shut case, he has some issues with Julie’s confused confession. Could she have stabbed Aslan with her right hand (as the wounds indicate) when she is the only left-handed person in the tent? Given that the crime was clearly pre-meditated, why would she allow herself to be found holding the knife? And most important, given that he must have been killed by someone who was inside the tent, why would anyone kill him in such a way?
In case you haven’t worked it out yet (or looked at the cover properly), this is a novel featuring the characters from Death In Paradise, the excellent BBC1 detective show. It features Richard Poole, the original lead character, as played by Ben Miller, as I gather Robert Thorogood started writing it when Miller was still in the show. He’s been replaced in the show – back this week on TV for a fourth series – by the equally excellent Kris Marshall but it’s nice to see him back for one last mystery here.
By presenting the book from the point of view of Poole, you get to see a little more of what drives him, although don’t expect any massive childhood trauma. For example, we discover that he always wears a suit in the Caribbean heat because “that’s what policemen are supposed to wear”. There’s a little extra insight regarding him as well, but nothing that seems at all out of place. The rest of the crew – Camille, Dwayne and Fidel – are all completely in character, as you’d expect from the series’s creator.
From the start, I’ve praised the plotting of the show – here’s my review of Episode One. There have been a few episodes where the set-up has been a little too obvious – the bird-watching one, for example – but it’s always given a fairly clued mystery. And that’s definitely what you get here.
If I was inclined to ever finish the blog, this would be the perfect place to stop. Because this is a classic mystery and no mistake. Fairly clued, a massive number of red herrings, including a couple of sly Agatha Christie references, in particular regarding one of the false solutions. Oh, and it all comes back to one misconception, and not an obvious one but one, if that if you realise it, turns the whole thing upside down. And best of all, towards the end, I had a solution. It made perfect sense – sort of – and I was delighted when Poole detailed exactly the same solution. And then I realised there was 20% left of the book to go and the solution was revealed as complete hogwash…
For fans of the series, this is an essential read. For non-fans, this is an essential read as well. There’s no need to catch up, everything you need to know is here, even if you have never even heard of the show. This is the sort of thing that The Monogram Murders should have been – a classically clued mystery with an ingenious solution that also addresses the need for why the murder needed to carried out in such a bizarre setting.
And purely to show off – I sent this tweet after I’d finished the book:
and was absolutely flabbergasted to receive this reply from the author.
This was yesterday and I’m still grinning about it. Obviously there are many ways to interpret this, but as Robert Thorogood has never met me, he clearly didn’t model the handsome male characters on me. So I’ll happily (and incorrectly) take responsibility for the entire novel 🙂 You’re welcome. Seriously though, what a nice thing to say.
Oh, and it case you haven’t worked it out, this is Highly Recommended. An absolutely cracking read – roll on Series Four.
My previous Death In Paradise Reviews:
- Series One, Episode One
- Series One Overview
- Series Two, Episode One
- Series Three, Episodes One and Two
- Series Three Overview
There’ll be a review of the series opener later this week.