Places not to book a holiday at: Ryan’s Royal Hotel in Invermore, Ireland. It seems when the Circuit Court comes to town, they just cancel any existing bookings in favour of the visiting court staff. Hence actor-manager Alan Russell and his two leads find themselves without a place to stay, just as one of the worst storms for years hits the area. Luckily the Standish family offers them a place to stay in their home of Inishlahan.
Of course, you can probably guess the rest of the set-up. Inishlahan is on an island so, yes, there’s only one bridge, yes, it’s going to get swept away and yes, there’s going to be horrible, bloody murder to deal with. As it happens, Russell has solved a few crimes before, but with no one to trust on the island, can he survive the attentions of a pick-axe wielding murderer?
If you cast you mind back to Bodies From The Library this year, or the post I wrote about it, you may recall John Curran championing Nigel FitzGerald, the author of twelve crime novels, mostly set in Ireland, between 1953 and 1967. A quick trip to Abebooks (definitely not while John was talking, oh no) procured me a copy of this one, a first edition (yippee) with dustjacket (double yippee) of one of John’s preferred titles.
The title comes from a Macbeth quote, but it’s primary meaning here is because the cast need to use candles once the power goes out in the storm – as everyone has distinctive candlesticks, because whenever you buy candlesticks, you never buy a matching set, apparently, which stick is where is possibly important.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first of all. I’m not keen on characters who are happily married but are still inclined to jump into bed with the first naked woman who proffers themselves to them. Russell’s wife is an actress in Hollywood, who he professes to love several times, but he still seems perfectly inclined to have a one night stand with at least one of the female characters.
And I’d be interested in a woman’s perspective on the behaviour of the female characters, most of whom seem to be governed by lust and/or jealousy. The men get something of a better deal, although I’m not sure what was gained by making one of them homophobic for a couple of scenes.
But… this is a clever mystery, definitely in the classic puzzle genre, with characters who you may not agree with, but are at least well defined. FitzGerald handles the small cast well, and suspicion is passed around well. There’s an odd bit where it looks like Russell was going to have to be treated as a suspect by the rest of the party, being one of the last people to see the victim alive, but this is surprisingly glossed over – I thought there could have been some mileage in this – and, as with the best mysteries, one has to overlook some massive coincidences concerning the links between the suspects.
Overall though, this was a quick, enjoyable read that almost had me looking the wrong way. FitzGerald makes good use of the characterisations to service the plot, and while the killing (fifteen blows with a pick axe) is brutal, it is never dwelt upon. I’ll definitely be looking at FitzGerald again in the future. Many thanks to John Curran for bringing him to light.