Hell Bay (2018) by Kate Rhodes

DI Ben Kitto has come home to the island of Bryher, one of the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago 25 miles west of the Cornish coast. After ten years of working undercover in London, a tragedy has turned his world upside down and he is looking to find some peace.

Unfortunately, as he’s a character in a mystery novel, what he finds on Bryher is a dead body, a young girl found at the bottom of the cliff on Hell Bay, stabbed through the heart. With a population of less than one hundred people, and a storm that stopped anyone leaving the island, it should be an easy job finding the killer – but even in such a small community, there are many, many secrets.

Well, this was a pleasant surprise. I was looking for a modern author writing a whodunit mystery, rather than a psychological unreliable-narrator-whose-husband-probably-did-it thriller. I’ll be honest, the as-time-of-writing price of 99p on ebook helped as well. And while the blurb does seem to tick most of the boxes in modern crime fiction bingo, I thought I’d give it a go. I was also curious from the cover exactly who Noone was, and why he/she was safe in Hell Bay…

And it’s a damn fine read. Some books, even when I’m enjoying them, I put down and don’t feel the need to rush back to them, but there are some books where I barely put my Kindle down, and when I do, it’s normally jammed into a pocket so I can read a bit more when I get the chance. This was one of those books.

There’s two reasons for that – first of all, the central character of Ben Kitto. He narrates the story, taking care to hide from the reader his reasons for leaving London until the time is right, but drip feeding enough to pique the interest until it’s time to find out. His developing relationship with another visitor to the island is really well handled, as is his relationship with Samson, the massive dog that he has taken responsibility for.

The second is the overall plot, starting with a bunch of disparate characters and gradually tying them together with various developments, some crucial to the plot, some complete red herrings – one strand was impressively handled by basically stopping it when something far more important happens to the prime mover.

Initially, I was going to have a bit of a moan about whether the killer’s identity comes out of nowhere but then I had a think about it. While Kitto doesn’t point it out to the reader, there is a really clear indication to the reader at one point as to who the killer is, but it completely bypassed me for a very good reason. The motivations behind the events are well-thought out (apart from the killer’s taunting of Kitto – that seemed to be there simply to add a couple of incidents and didn’t seem to mesh with the killer’s motivations). There are some very effective emotional beats at the conclusion to the story, both in the mystery and in Kitto’s story – one little moment did put a massive grin on my face.

Overall, this was an extremely satisfying read. This series nearly passed me by – I’m so glad I spotted the offer making me try it. It’s the first series novel that I’ve read in a while that has made me think that I definitely want to keep reading that series – so expect the second book, Ruin Beach, very soon…


  1. I think the series just gets better, but then I’ve always thought Kate Rhodes was an extremely good writer. Do you know her Alice Quentin series set in London? It’s every bit as good.


  2. I really enjoy this series as well – the setting is quite magical and it really is a challenge for an author to create enough suspects and variety in such a small society.


  3. Thanks for the review – sounds like you hit on a modern crime writer crafting more of a classic whodunit than a procedural thriller? My local Kindle store is hardly as generous as yours – it’s priced a few times more.


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