Just after I’d read an Agatha Christie themed ‘closed island’ murder mystery (set around Christmas so very festive) up pops another in the hands of accomplished author Kate Rhodes.
This is the fifth outing for DI Ben Kitto and is based on the Scilly Isles, that outpost that it seemed kept coronavirus at bay very well. However, it appears it doesn’t manage to escape the attention of serial killers. The author warns this is not a guide book to the islands but having never visited I must say it might just be on my list of travels when our vaccine allows.
Kitto and his team are training for the annual swimathon near the town of St Mary’s, when passing a rocky outcrop called Pulpit Rock, often the backdrop to romantic weddings, a body is seen hanging dead. That the victim is then discovered to be dressed in full white wedding attire with ancient and symbolic jewellery the dark and sinister tale is set. To prevent the killer from escaping, Kitto has no choice but to lock down St Mary’s, yet in doing so is he unwillingly trapping further victims within the grasp of an audacious murderer?
The plot started at full speed and rarely dipped in its intensity. It was very evocative of the landscape which is wonderfully described by the author including all things from rocks to flora and fauna. I am not sure the forensic details would win any prizes but the tension was intense and there was soon a raft of suspects and a growing menace to terrorise those now trapped on the island. This is always a clever trick in plotting a crime thriller as the sea covers the only means (it seems) of escape to the mainland.
Characterisation was excellent and I particularly liked Sabine who showed the vulnerability and plight of Eastern European workers in hospitality. Also how deeply the local inhabitants on an island are linked with their past history and how important the scale of the dangerous and unpredictable surrounding sea can be on life and death. Using symbols and items such as the sailor’s charms added to the individuality of the plot. The subplots of Kitto knowing some of the suspects and the return of his past lover also added to the intrigue and grew his character more in my eyes.
Before reading this the most I knew about the Scilly Isles was that it was the holiday home of Prime Minister Harold Wilson and I am not sure what the local tourist board thinks of this series of crime thrillers. I note the author has previous published poetry and her sense of description and bringing to our imagination as readers the fine details of place and weather were right on the button to evoke anyone to follow in the footsteps of DI Kitto to do their own investigation of St Mary’s and beyond.
I enjoyed it a lot as a personal read and would be keen to read more in the series by this author. I am sure book groups would like it immensely especially if anyone had travelled the Isles of Scilly and could share holiday pics to enliven the murders! Let’s face it if Bergerac and Morse and more lately Ruth Galloway and Rebus have shown anything bringing death to a scenic town, city or island can in many ways enhance its attractiveness for visitors. The author supplies a map at the start should you as a reader want to explore more of this murderous but stunning place!
Review by Philipa Coughlan
Personal Read 4*
Group Read 4*
Published by Simon & Schuster
Hardback was out in October 2020 ISBN 978-1-4711-8986-9
Paperback out 15th April 2021