Saint-Marie, island paradise and murder hotspot. Assigned to the Caribbean island against his will, Richard Poole is doing everything to maintain his sanity, despite those efforts looking like exactly the opposite to his team. Their latest attempt to help him fit in, and, basically, not to die of dehydration and heatstroke, is to convince him to stop wearing his very British suit and tie. Luckily their best efforts are interrupted by Lucy Beaumont, the daughter of the family who run a coffee plantation, who asks for their help with a strange bearded man who seems to be stalking her.
Arriving at the plantation, their investigations are disturbed by the sound of gunfire. Breaking down the door of a shower room (yes, bolted from the inside), the dead body of the bearded man lies in a pool of water. Clearly suicide – but what sort of suicide shoots themselves twice? And what sort of suicide shoots themselves after turning on the shower? As the identity of the dead body becomes apparent, it seems that any member of the Beaumont family is a suspect.
I’ve been waiting for this for a while. Regular readers know what a fan of Death In Paradise I am, and the first two novels, A Meditation On Murder and The Killing of Polly Carter, written by the series creator Robert Thorogood, were absolute crackers, giving life once again to the original lead character, DI Richard Poole. Personally, I never had a problem with the change of lead characters, but Poole’s fish out of water character was a classic creation and it’s nice to see him again. And thanks to Thorogood’s writing, he (and Camille, Dwayne, Fidel and the Commissioner) just leaps off the page. It takes absolutely no effort at all to hear Ben Miller’s voice as you read Poole’s inner thoughts, giving an extra dimension to the character than the television show could provide.I’ve always seen the television show as a bit of a game – the locked room mysteries tend to be classic ones (i.e. ones that I’ve seen before) but spotting which one (if indeed I do spot it) can be loads of fun. But here the author is trying something a little new.
Yes, there’s a locked room (and I’ll come back to that in a mo) and I’ve seen it before (although in a Paul Doherty tale rather than in something from Carr) but I only recognised this after the fact, so fair enough. But here, rather than making the locked room the central idea, Thorogood has gone for a traditional set-up, with a small cast of characters, most of whom have no alibi, and the plot resembles a more classic whodunit style. The weakness of a locked room mystery can be that if you spot how it was done, you will see who did it. But here, it doesn’t help in the slightest. The locked room is fairly unimportant to the central mystery, and that mystery is a cracker. Because, like the television series, it’s a game, and a game that the author knows all the moves to.
The least likely suspect, the character who couldn’t possibly have done it, a mysterious “suicide” in the past, the tangential character who seems unimportant. Readers of classic mysteries will make certain assumptions because they know what these tend to lead to in mystery fiction. But Thorogood knows this and doesn’t tend to take all of these strands in the direction you might expect. Some of them, yes, but by playing all of these cards, it really helps misdirect the reader. It worked on me – I thought I saw what trick he was playing, but missed the real one. And one aspect of the locked room is another great misdirection.
As an aside, there’s one strand, concerning recovering writing from burnt paper, that has a curious clash with an episode that I re-watched the other day – there, Richard performs the task overnight, whereas here… I wonder, did the author get someone nitpicking the episode and then write this into this story to justify it?
Needless to say, I loved this book. It’s the best of the three tales so far, and the other two were outstanding as well. Fans of the classic mystery really shouldn’t overlook these titles, so rush out and buy this one today. And tell your friends – in case you haven’t guessed this is Highly Recommended.
Death Knocks Twice is out today (27th July 2017) from HQ books (a subdivision of HarperCollins). Go and buy it now!