reviewed by Gail Byrd
A police procedural that leans heavily on the investigation rather than anything physical, this is the fourth in the series featuring DCI Arthur St. Just and his fiancé, Portia De’Ath. The book easily stands alone, as the only connection it has to earlier books in the series is the meeting between Arthur and Portia which has now grown into an engagement and is not central to the story.
Malliett has a talent for creating interesting characters and enjoyable settings, and this series is no exception. Arthur is the type of policeman we would all want conducting an investigation; tenacious, kind, dedicated to discovering the truth. Portia has a minor part in this book, however she does offer support, and provides some side interest as Arthur allows himself to feel threatened by an incredibly handsome reality television star who is also visiting the area.
DCI St. Just and Portia De’Ath have travelled to a picturesque town in Cornwell for a week’s vacation. The town is lovely, and they start to settle in, only to learn there is a major issue dividing the residents regarding projects that should benefit the fishers in town. Opposing this idea are those who want the town to stay as it is to enhance tourism and the influx of wealthy part-time residents who like it the way it is. There’s a town meeting to discuss it, and the couple go, although nothing is resolved.
One of the main people involved in this issue is the life peer, Lord Bodwally, who is selfish, and has little concern toward anyone other than himself. He meets St. Just and Portia and invites them to his estate where they get a cursory tour and invitation to return the next day. When they return, they find the lord’s body, having been stabbed multiple times.
St. Just gets in contact with the local constabulary, but in keeping with his own sense of commitment to law and order, he becomes embroiled in the investigation. As he continues to investigate, along with an old friend who is posted to Cornwall, he learns the lord also had a poisonous fish in his system. The question arises, were there two different forms of trying to kill him? Why would someone use a poisoned fish to commit murder? Lord Bodwally was an unpleasant person, but what had he done that was so severe it would make someone want to kill him?
There are interesting side characters who both add color and depth to the story as well as provide a comprehensive list of suspects. These characters are fully developed and add considerable interest to the book and the area. They range from a self-styled Wiccan woman who has appointed herself keeper of the stone circle that overlooks the town to a gourmet chef who owns a high-end pub and a vicar who wears Hawaiian shirts and has a very different way of engaging in conversation with people around town.
Malliett is skilled at creating people and places that are attractive, charming, and interesting in unique ways. That is reflected in the charming nature of the village she has created as well as the characters who populate it. Reading it may give you enough interest that you want to visit Cornwall and become friends with many of the people in the town. It’s a refreshing read that can transport you to another world where you can enjoy existing, at least for a short time.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books that lean heavily on the investigative side of an issue without going into the action details or adding tension as people move in and out of potentially threatening situations. It is a combination of a cozy and a police procedural that hits all the right notes for a relaxing read.
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