“This is my challenge to you,” the woman in white said. “I want you to solve my murder.”
London in the 1930s and Rachel Savernake has been invited by the artist Damaris Gethin to her latest exhibition, a grim display of live models posing as statues of murderers from across the ages. After Damaris offers her challenge to Rachel, she mounts the stage for the centrepiece of the exhibition – for she is Marie Antoinette. She places her head in the guillotine, the lights go out… and the blade falls.
It soon becomes apparent that there was no way the guillotine could have been tampered with. Damaris must have committed suicide – but what did she mean when she asked Rachel to solve her murder? And how does Kiki De Villiers, a socialite on reporter Jacob Flint’s radar and present at the gallery, feature into the case? And how many more bodies will be found before the truth is exposed?
What a fascinating book. I do find the Golden Age tag that is used to support this series – Gallows Court, Mortmain Hall, Blackstone Fell and now this one – an interesting one, as readers expecting an isolated group of suspects, an eccentric detective and a gathering in the drawing room at the end are going to be rather surprised. And I would hope that they would be pleasantly surprised (and then discover that there was more to the Golden Age than the classically constructed whodunnit anyway).
I’ve going to have to repeat what I’ve said before with the series, which is that Martin has done something rather magnificent here. If this was written as a pure thriller, it would be a deeply satisfying book, but woven throughout the thrills is a cleverly plotted mystery – with a cluefinder at the end to prove it. It’s worth reading, but I do warn the reader that they’ll end up repeatedly kicking themselves at the things that they missed.
One thing that is worth pointing out is another deviation from the Golden Age, as there are at least two central themes to the plot, both revealed towards the end, but clued almost from page one, that I don’t know any writer at the time would have dealt with. I do wonder sometimes if Golden Age homages should be nominated for the CWA History Dagger, but it would certainly be merited in this case, with Martin clearly having carefully researched certain aspects of life at the time to give some real weight to the story. Oh, and he’s researched when the first automatic dishwasher was available too!
All in all, this is an absolute triumph. Regular readers of the blog will be aware that I know Martin as well as any writer that I blog about, so please be assured that this review isn’t swayed by that acquaintance. If anything, I’m holding back from gushing about this one even more than I have done. The best book so far in an outstanding series of books – and it’s out tomorrow, 11th May. What on earth are you waiting for?
Many thanks to the publishers, Head Of Zeus, for the review copy. This is one of the first stops on the blog tour for the book, do be sure to check out what the other bloggers thought. I suppose it’s possible that someone didn’t like it… but I doubt it.