Having visited Brighton a couple of times – once rather recently to enjoy one of those “experience gifts” for the British Airways i360 – I was immediately drawn to this book, my interest peaked by the mysterious cover, displaying an ominous looking Brighton Pier lurking in the mist. Upon reading the preface which set the scene of the unexpected – but seemingly natural – death of an old lady, dwelling in a flat on the seafront, but whom it is revealed had made a name amongst those around her as a “murder consultant”, I was intrigued, expecting an unpredictable and twisting plot.
To cut to the chase a little, I was slightly disappointed – but only towards the end!
Following the discovery of Peggy Smith, the old lady found dead in her armchair facing the sea, the plot shadows the investigations of DS Harbinder Kaur, along with a rather peculiar and mismatched team of amateur sleuths: an elderly gentleman called Edwin, a young and glamorous Ukrainian national named Natalka, and Benedict, an ex-monk who now runs a café.
To begin with giving credit where credit is due, for the most part, I did actually enjoy this book: the scenery was pleasantly portrayed, so as to completely transport me to the seaside town of Shoreham; each of the characters were unique and I particularly loved the charm of Edwin; the prevailing laid-back, casual manner in which the amateur sleuths would follow and pursue clues, network their murder theories excitedly over a cup of coffee, and drop everything to travel all the way to Scotland willy-nilly to chase up a lead, was somehow both uplifting and comforting. The investigation became somewhat of a murder-mystery board game that consumed the mundane lives of three juxtaposing, ordinary characters, which made for delightful easy-reading; an absorbing detective tale with none of the dark, horror themes typical of crime authors. Don’t get me wrong – there were still a number of thrilling cliff-hanger-ends to particular chapters that made me grip the book a little tighter, pulling the page even closer to my face in shock, but overall, it was ‘cosy crime’ a term so helpfully referenced in the final chapter.
By page one hundred, I had already formulated my own theory on where the plot was going and the motive behind the murders – one which I will not divulge here because – as it transpires – it was indeed where the plot was heading… Which would have been fine: although predictable, I still liked the premise. However, personally I was not a fan of the apparent efforts to elaborate this perfectly adequate storyline with far-fetched and unrealistic embellishments, as abstract as the Russian mafia, crypto-currency fraud, and historic espionage, spinning an unbelievable thread before inevitably landing at the ordinary conclusions I had predicted anyway.
Another aspect of the final chapters which I didn’t enjoy – but appreciate others may well find appealing – was the Poirot-style dramatised plot-twists. Picture the traditional closing scenes to wind up a classic Poirot episode: all of the key characters are gathered in a dimly lit room with an open fire, the shock on everyone’s faces as he announces the killer, describing their motives in detail, before spinning on his heels and revealing the true killer… *repeat process at least a couple of times for optimal forceful shock*. Truthfully, I love a good plot-twist, but there was definitely some over-kill here – pun intended – particularly as it was just squeezed into the very last chapters and whizzed through rather quickly, almost like an after-thought to quicken the pulse of the reader towards the end. It quickened my pulse with frustration. So many minor characters were raked up at the end of the novel, I almost wish I’d have kept a note-book handy throughout the read, much like Peggy Smith probably would have!
Disappointingly, I didn’t adore any of the characters. As I mentioned, my personal favourite by far was Edwin, with his well-pressed trousers, pink bow ties, and the way he tags along merrily for the journey, thrilled to have some company and adventure that reminded him of his old days working at the BBC. Although I can appreciate the unique and thoughtful backstories to each character, particularly Natalka and Benedict – a retired monk and a Ukrainian crypto-currency trader – I’m afraid I never quite took to them, finding their personalities difficult to warm towards, particularly Natalka’s.
While DS Harbinder Kaur was likeable to a certain extent, as a fiercely loyal friend, a doting and selfless daughter, and a force for good in challenging stereotypes and casual prejudice present in Southern seaside towns, I also couldn’t quite connect with her. Throughout the book, DS Kaur didn’t seem to be spectacularly talented nor insightful as a detective – up-to-scratch but no Sherlock Holmes – yet right at the end of the novel, seemingly out of nowhere, she suddenly produces all the answers and saves the day… Some would describe that as character progression, but I didn’t feel like her progress was explicitly depicted, nor even implied; instead it just seemed like a disjointed and confusing leap to a different character altogether.
Would I recommend?
In short, probably not. While I don’t regret reading it as it did have many merits to enjoy, I thought the plot was quite disappointing. If you like ‘cosy crime’ or Scooby-Doo style groups of armchair-detectives, and don’t mind the occasional far-fetched tangent that doesn’t really enhance the story, then you may well want to give this book a go – maybe you’ll enjoy it more than I did! It’s important to remember that people have different tastes and preferences when it comes to book genres, so I’m sure it will be someone’s cup of tea; it just wasn’t mine I’m afraid.
As a footnote: Despite the allure of a Brighton murder initially prompting my purchase of this book, the entire novel was instead based in Shoreham… so not Brighton. Near Brighton, I’ll give them that. But I still feel misled.