When Peggy Smith dies, seated in the window of her retirement apartment in Shoreham-by-Sea, her friends, carer Natalka Kolisnyk, fellow resident, Edwin Fitzgerald and ex-monk, now seafront café owner, Benedict Cole are surprised to find a business card declaring Mrs Smith’s occupation to be that of “Murder Consultant”. Perhaps they should not be so surprised, given that Peggy has been an avid reader of crime fiction and her flat is testament to her obsession, full to bursting with detective novels. What is even more fascinating is that close examination of the acknowledgment pages of several current publications indicates that their authors might actually have consulted the old lady when inspiration deserted them. Where does her knowledge of the dark art of murder come from? Does she have a past that has never been revealed?
Of more immediate concern to her carer, Ukrainian maths graduate, Natalka, is the cause of Peggy’s own death. Given that she was perfectly well the last time that Natalka saw her and that her angina tablets were right next to her, the young woman suspects foul play. Onto the scene comes DS Harbinder Kaur, taking centre stage again after her previous appearance in The Stranger Diaries, still living at home with her parents and still uncertain how to broach with them the fact that she is homosexual. At first Harbinder and her partner DS Neil Winston are sceptical about claims that Peggy was herself murdered, but as sinister notes begin to appear each bearing the legend We are coming for you, and Natalka and Benedict are threatened by a mysterious gunman who bursts into Peggy‘s flat just, it seems, to take a copy of the out of print murder mystery, Thank Heaven Fasting, they have to start to take things more seriously.
At Peggy’s funeral, which her three friends attend not only out of affection for the deceased but also because the murderer always attends the funeral, they meet crime writer, Dex Challoner, one of those who has consistently acknowledged his debt to Peggy. She was, they learn, brilliant at thinking of new ways of killing people and Dex, author of the Tod France novels, was in the habit of sending her copies of his manuscript to read before publication. His own mother, Weronika, had also lived in the retirement complex and she and Peggy had known each other, possibly even travelled together behind the Iron Curtain. Is that somehow linked to the mystery men who Natalka believes are trailing her?
And then Challoner is shot in the head. Whatever the police may think about Peggy Smith’s death, this one is definitely murder. Now they need to track down and offer protection to the other authors who have received the mysterious threat, including Julie (J D) Monroe. Ms Monroe ought to be relatively easy to contact given that she has a home in Brighton but she, like many other crime writers, is just off to a festival in Aberdeen; she’ll speak to them when she gets back. This is not good enough for our intrepid amateur investigators, Natalka, Benedict and Edwin, who immediately decided to set off on a road trip from England’s South Coast all the way up to the Granite City.
Inevitably, murder and mayhem follow them, because just as The Stranger Diaries played around with the conventions of the Gothic horror story, an example of which was embedded within it, so The Postscript Murders is something of a tongue in cheek exploration of the idiosyncrasies associated with crime fiction. The amateur sleuths, the killer attending the funeral, the murder in a closed community, these and many other tropes are there for the enjoying. And I did enjoy this book very much, in fact rather more than its predecessor, where I found the inclusion of the Gothic short story to be intrusive and if I’m honest rather dull. This moves along at a much better pace and is clearer in its focus. If you had asked me which character Griffiths was going to pick up and run with after the earlier novel, Harbinder or its central figure, Clare, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I’m glad it was Harbinder. She is no Ruth Galloway, but she is still pleasant company and I am interested to see how she is allowed to develop given that, as she recognises, the chances of promotion within her own force are rather limited.
The book is written in typical Griffiths’ style, that is with tongue quite often firmly stuck in cheek, and those who enjoy the journeys into Ruth’s very distinctive way of thinking will find much to relish here, my favourite being the (in my mind blasphemous) observation that Marmite is just one reason why the British will never be a civilised nation. And surely Kate would thoroughly enjoy the clock with hands in the shape of carrots which chase sundry vegetables around the dial until such time as it is possible to say that it’s seven-thirty, a carrot past a radish.
Nothing is ever going to replace Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novels in my affection, but DS Harbinder Kaur is shaping up nicely enough and I hope the series will continue. Which genre will be the next under the spotlight. I wonder?
With thanks to Quercus and NetGalley for the review copy.