The Fifth of November on St Agnes in the Scilly Isles, and the islanders are celebrating with their annual fireworks display. But shortly before the fireworks begin, a body is found, already burned, on the bonfire. A killer is at large on the island and it falls to Ben Kitto, the Deputy Chief of Police, to find them.
But this is no ordinary killer, as a message threatening newcomers to the island written in ancient Cornish is discovered. Suspicion has fallen on the so-called Birdman of the island, a loner who only cares for the bird-life, but it soon becomes clear that someone far more dangerous is stalking the island.
This is the third Ben Kitto novel – following Hell Bay and Ruin Beach – and Kitto is now settled into his life on the island. He is lonely, especially as his friend Zoe has left, but his life seems to have direction. Now, this is a bit of a shame, as there was a lot of personal development of Ben in the first book and I’d hoped there would be more here, given there was less in Book Two. Unfortunately, after name-dropping a character from Hell Bay, I was hoping for a reappearance, but (mild spoilers) that wasn’t to be. So the primary focus of this tale is the investigation of the crime.
Let’s be clear, I enjoyed the book as I read it – the characters, the descriptions of the scenery, the heightened tensions as the book progresses, the sections focussing on the Birdman are all great. The actions of some of the characters make a lot of sense, whether it is dealing with grief, dealing with suspicion or dealing with fear. There is one particular action that exists purely to confuse the plot (committed by an innocent character) that was a bit annoying, and the middle third drags a bit, but overall, I enjoyed the book a lot.
… the killer’s plan makes little sense – and I think the author knew this – as it becomes clear to the reader by the end of the book that the character is, shall we say, bat-shit crazy, which is necessary for the reader to buy into their actions, which didn’t quite work for me. And it commits the cardinal sin of this blog – detecting the villain by spotting them doing villainous things. We get an insight throughout of Kitto’s thoughts, and you can see that he basically gets to the bottom of things by determination – any time he meets someone, he considers their guilt, usually inconclusive – rather than by deduction. So it’s hard to classify this as a classic mystery.
However, this won’t bother a lot of readers, as this is an entertaining thriller that fans of books such as Ann Cleeves’ Shetland tales should enjoy. The next in the series, Pulpit Rock, is out this week (no review copy, so you’ll have to wait a bit) but I’ll be keeping an eye out.