Murders for late November
From Shakespeare to Agatha Christie, crime novels invoke the genre’s heritage, sometimes ably and sometimes not
Andrew Wilson’s I Saw Him Die (Simon and Schuster, 2021, £8.99) is the fourth of Wilson’s detective novels featuring Agatha Christie and written from her perspective. Set in Scotland in 1930 at Dallach Lodge near a ruined castle, the plot hinges on the death of Robin Kinmuir, the estate owner. The novel has strengths and weaknesses, and the first sufficiently outweigh the second. In the fashion of Christie, there is superb misdirection and the plotting is very good indeed, with an ingenious murder and a first-rate series of twists thereafter. Less positively, the handling of prose is not of Christie’s quality. There are a few foolish comparisons, most notably, “’It’s all very Castle of Otranto,’ whispered Davison as we stepped out of the car. ‘In fact, it looks the perfect place for a murder’” (p. 9). Readers of The Castle of Otranto will note that the two novels have nothing in common. More seriously, there is at times a plodding and worthy character to the prose. Yet, it is difficult to capture the essence of Christie’s brilliance as a stylist and Wilson deserves much praise for trying to get inside her personality and producing an effective novel accordingly.
Set in the present-day Tyneside, Mari Hannah’s Her Last Request (Orion, 2022) is similar in being well-plotted but less well written. The protagonist is all vigour and determination, her adversary totally evil, and the novel deals with male cruelty to women. In plot terms, it is somewhat incredible that the victim leaves so many clues, but an acceptable airport read.
This very clever story about detective novelists has deaths aplenty
Elly Griffiths’ The Postscript Murders (Quercus, 2020, £14.99) is a better read than either of the above. A somewhat inconsistent author, Griffiths has done very well here in producing a novel that is at once well-plotted and well-written, and with characters who are well-etched and do more than simply move the narrative along. This very clever story about detective novelists has deaths aplenty, beginning with that of a murder consultant, misdirections, well-revealed settings from Shoreham to Aberdeen, notably the antler-themed Scottish hotel that is the setting for an ably-parodied detective writers convention with panels such as “Is Hamlet a Crime Novel?” (Wuthering Heights, The Mill on the Floss and Emma are all offered), and a lot of easy wit, as in “Becki Finch who’s written a book about a homicidal vampire called Trevor” or “You don’t take a mistress to a Travelodge”. The complexity of the plot grows but never beyond the grasp of those who wish to be engaged.
Alex Reeve’s The Anarchists’ Club (Raven, 2020, £8.99) is the second of his Victorian-set Leo Stanhope series, based on Charlotte, a woman convinced of an inherent masculinity. 1881 brings a murder at an anarchists’ meeting place in London. The view of the period is rather grim, but for those interested in a particular perspective, Reeve has much to offer. Tony Kent’s Killer Intent (Elliott and Thompson, 2018, £7.99) begins as part of a select gathering with a strong opening at an assassination attempt in central London. This is a thriller rather than a detective story, but, as with most thrillers, there are the same issues of who? why? And what will happen? The writing style is fairly basic. That is true of most of the genre, but I could do without lines such as “He snarled at Dempsey in defiance”.
David Foenkinos’ The Mystery of Henri Pick (Pushkin Press in association with Walter Presents, 2020, £9.99) is better conceived and much better written. A mystery about books, authorship and reputation. Who wrote The Last Hours of a Love Affair?: “When people asked her about the book, she replied simply: it’s by a dead Breton author. Certain sentences have a unique ability to end a conversation…. marrying an unknown German woman was such a novelistic thing to do. The first hours of a love affair, thought Rocke. It was wonderful to drink this undrinkable coffee in a gloomy service station, and to know that there was nowhere else in the world he would rather be…. Her ex-husband called her … but it felt like a chore, like a sort of post-break-up aftersales service.” A pleasant, wry read.
Jeremy Black has recently published The Importance of Being Poirot.
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