In 2018 this author gave us The Stranger Diaries, a creepy & entertaining story that introduced DS Harbinder Kaur. She was more of a secondary character but with the arrival of this book, she steps into the shoes of MC. Not only is she up to the task, her unique voice is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this literary murder mystery.
It all kicks off with the death of Peggy Smith, a 90 year old woman living in quaint-sounding Shoreham-by-Sea. She’s found by her care giver Natalka, sitting in her chair by the window & surrounded by her beloved mystery books. It’s sad but hardly a shock, right? Well….
It’s just that she was absolutely fine when Natalka popped in that morning. And there’s the small matter of the business card on the table that refers to Peggy as a “Murder Consultant”. Maybe Natalka better talk to someone.
Luckily, her visit to the police station gets her a meeting with DS Harbinder Kaur. Neither one can know it yet but it’s the beginning of a strange, deadly & entertaining adventure, Because sudden death doesn’t stop with Peggy. Pretty soon, mystery authors who were acquainted with the little old ‘murder consultant” by the sea begin keeling over at an alarming rate.
In short order, Kaur has several investigations on the go & whether she wants it or not, she’s also got outside help. Three of Peggy’s friends decide to act as Kaur’s eyes & ears. It’s not exactly an illustrious crew….a mysterious/gorgeous care giver (Natalka), an ex-monk turned coffee guy (Benny) & a fastidious OAP (Edwin). It’s like belonging to a really weird book club. But oddly enough, Harbinder is kind of enjoying it.
So you’ve probably figured out this is not another gritty thriller. It’s more than that. As events lead police, Kaur & her team of misfits on a dash across the UK, many references are made to well known mystery/crime writers & their work. There’s definitely a golden age vibe to the story, albeit with a decidedly modern edge & more humour. Intricate plotting, compelling characters, smart dialogue & plenty of dry wit makes this an engaging read.
At the centre of it all is Harbinder Kaur, a 30-something gay Asian cop who lives with her parents. I really like this character. She’s such an intriguing mix with one foot in the traditional Asian community of her parents while the other is firmly planted in her modern reality of being a cop. Several characters take turns narrating from their POV but hers is the primary voice. And it’s one full of intelligence, determination & dryly observant humour.
Plenty of red herrings keep you guessing as to who is behind it all while a variety of secondary characters add colour & depth to the story. I really enjoyed this & look forward to seeing how Kaur & her colleagues develop in the next one. Highly recommend for fans of Agatha Christie & Anthony Horowitz’ Atticus Pünd series.