Her Dr Ruth Galloway books have won her legions of fans and myriad awards, and in addition to the Brighton Mysteries series, in recent years Elly Griffiths has turned her hand to the standalone format too. The Stranger Diaries was a big success, and among the characters featured in it was DS Harbinder Kaur.
Now Kaur is back, in another standalone book that is a pure joy to read. It all begins in pretty mundane fashion, when Peggy Smith, the 90-year-old resident of a block of seafront apartments in Shoreham, West Sussex, is found dead in her armchair. She was elderly and had a heart condition so it all screams natural causes… Or does it?
Natalka, the Ukrainian woman who was Peggy’s regular carer, is not so sure. You see, Peggy wasn’t quite the doddery white-haired old dear she made herself out to be. A glance at some of the crime novels she loved to read, and which filled her bookshelves, reveal a whole different side to the recently deceased pensioner.
Authors galore have dedicated their books to Peggy – one even writing: “PS: Thanks for the murders”. And a search of the flat reveals an intriguing calling card – Peggy Smith, Murder Consultant, no less! The plot thickens, and there’s nothing that piques Harbinder Kaur’s interest more than a thickening plot…
The Postscript Murders is written with a wonderful lightness of touch and it is clear from the off that Griffiths is enjoying every minute of writing it. Kaur is a great character. She is a fine, intuitive detective who is gay, still lives at home with her parents, and is never afraid to follow her gut instinct. Her internal dialogues will have you smiling – in fact, this book is something of a smile-fest, with some hearty chuckles thrown in for the fun of it and there’s a cosy vibe too.
The more than Kaur discovers about Peggy, the less likely it appears that she died a natural death. Natalka joining forces with former-monk-turned-coffee-shop-owner Benedict and Peggy’s dear friend, the elderly ex-BBC employee Edwin in the hope of uncovering a clue of two, setting the scene for a fascinating, and funny, ride.
Then a top author is killed and with Kaur back at base working out whodunit, the trio decides to set off for Aberdeen, where a crime book festival is about to take place. They want to chat to some of the authors who acknowledged Peggy in their books – but things don’t exactly go as planned.
The scenes at the crime festival and the authors they meet there are wonderful. Griffiths has more than a festival or two under her belt and she uses that experience to fine effect. I’m sure fellow authors will recognise some of the people who feature, but we readers have no need to worry – we’re drawn in, rather than perhaps feeling left out of the in-jokes.
Amidst all the fun there’s a tightly rendered plot which keeps you guessing… and guessing. Kaur’s more traditional approach to crime solving is tempered by the flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants sleuthing of Natalka, Benedict and Edwin, and gradually we learn that no one is quite what they appear on the surface. There are plenty of twists and turns, wry grins and outright giggles in store before we get to the bottom of it all. Griffiths also writes romantic novels under the name of Domenica De Rosa, and she can’t resist the odd moment of romance too.
There’s plenty of darkness and worry out there at the moment, but books like The Postscript Murders offer some welcome light relief – and isn’t that something to be applauded?
There’s more Sussex-based intrigue in Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game. You’ll find more spritely seniors with secrets in Mrs Kaplan and the Matzo Ball of Death by Mark Reutlinger.