As mentioned in my previous post, Martin Edwards will be appearing at a Crime Writers Evening in Formby on Thursday 5th July alongside Frances Brody and Stephen Booth. As such I decided to try and review one book from each author before the event, and, as I had The Serpent Pool waiting on my Kindle, that was the one I started with.
Things have moved on slightly with the proto-relationship between historian Daniel Kind and DCI Hannah Scarlett. One of them is now actually single! The other isn’t, however, although doesn’t seem to be desperately happy, and, on top of that, Daniel has swanned off to the USA for a while. Oh, hang on, it’s a mystery novel as well, isn’t it? Well, Hannah is investigating the possible-suicide-probably-murder of Bethany Friend, drowned in the Serpent Pool. It would seem to be a bizarre suicide, except for the fact that she was terrified of water. There also seems to be a link to a more recent murder of a book collector, found burned to death surrounded by the remnants of his collection. As all of the characters involved in either death seem to be linked in some way, it seems that things are going to get worse – and they do. But when people close to both Daniel and Hannah also seem to be involved, is there any way this can possibly have a happy ending?
Apologies if my introduction makes this sound a little like a soap opera – it’s not, I assure you. It’s a smart murder mystery with characters that you care about. What is impressive about this book is twofold.
First, the emotional side. If you’ve been following the series to date, you will know about the slow-burn relationship between Scarlett and Kind. For the first three books, there was an unspoken attraction but here, now that one of them is single following the events of The Arsenic Labyrinth and the other is getting more dissatisfied with their current relationship, they are starting to seriously look at each other. I’m sure some readers are thinking that it’s about time, but let’s face it, once they get together (and I’m confident that they will at some point), it limits the story possibilities a bit. Needless to say, things move forward a bit more here, but by the end, it’s still not clear at all where things are going. What Edwards does here though, unlike a lot of writers of this sort of thing, is weave the main plot seamlessly into the romantic shenanigans. Indeed, the investigation, and the links of the lead characters to those involved, provides the movement in the relationship, but not in the way that you might expect it to. Needless to say, events don’t pan out the way you might expect them to.
The second point is the plot, and what Edwards does with that. If you were to strip away everything apart from the bare bones of the plot, the killer and the motive, you would have a story that you have read before. Indeed, if you’ve read a number of lazy thrillers, you’ve read it a lot. What the author has managed to do with the framework here, that a lot of writers fail to do, is make that story not only work, but makes it make sense. A motive that normally makes me want to throw the book at the wall, this time, due to the build-up, the character development and the general fair-playness of the plot, instead just impressed me.
Oh, I’ll add a third thing in as well. The willingness of the author to spend more time with one of the leads that the other. Kind is researching Thomas De Quincey and his writing on murder, which is, as ever, important, plotwise, but the central movement in the plot is Scarlett’s investigation and as such, it is given more time. Only natural, but doesn’t always happen in a two-lead book.
In case you haven’t worked it out yet, this is another high recommendation for this series. I just hope Martin Edwards gets on with writing more – only one more to go before I run out of them…