Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 2 March 2021 | 336 pgs
I was so pleased to see that Elly Griffiths decided to write a series featuring DS Harbinder Kaur, who first made her first appearance in The Stranger Diaries. Harbinder is an intriguing character herself; she's a Sikh in her thirties, is gay and lives with her parents. She's the no-nonsense kind and she doesn't really care what people think of her, which is one trait I liked most about her.
In this book we follow Harbinder to Shoreham, a West Sussex coastal town, to look into the death of a 90-year-old Peggy Smith. Although Peggy is reported to have died of a heart condition, her carer thinks otherwise. Natalka, an Ukrainian young woman who has some knowledge in cryptocurrency dealing, has been taking care of Peggy for a while and knew about her quiet lifestyle and her health condition. She believes there's more than meets the eye surrounding Peggy's death after finding a postcard tucked in one of her books with an ominous message "We are coming for you". Peggy may be old and wheelchair-bound, but in truth she was a smart woman who had offered some of her ideas to several well-acclaimed crime authors about murder plots and how to kill people in the fictional world, thus earning her the title of "murder consultant" among them and it was no surprise her name was often mentioned in their acknowledgements.
As Harbinder and her partner, DS Neil Winston began their investigation after Natalka's observation, Natalka herself forms her own sleuthing group consisting an ex-monk turns cafe owner (Benedict) and a retired gay radio broadcaster (Edwin) who are all acquaintances of Peggy and living around the area. Their curious probing took a turn when a gunman broke into Peggy's flat and fled away with an out-of-print crime novel, adding more intrigue and suspicion to the already suspicious case. To complicate matters, Natalka thinks she is being followed by two men whom she suspected are Ukrainian mafia for the cryptocurrency fraud years ago. Without any ideas or clues, the two sleuth parties soon find two more authors dead. Both authors knew Peggy and they too had received the same ominous message. Who is targeting these authors and for what reason?
Once again, I find myself captivated by Ms Griffiths' way of plotting and executing the story, as well as her interesting cast of characters who are unique and unforgettable in their own ways. Natalka, Benedict and Edwin may have nothing in common and their personalities differ, but they've an astonishing chemistry and I enjoyed reading their observations and their theories. Harbinder's character continues to be a delightful read, but I was more drawn to the literary theme surrounding the mystery and the interesting trio that made this book such a fun read despite the dark mood of murders. And oh, if you've read The Stranger Diaries, you may be pleased to see Clare has made an appearance in this book, though she has no connection to the story and each book stand on its own.
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