A Meditation On Murder by Robert Thorogood

Meditation on MurderAslan Kennedy is the leader of a spiritual retreat on Saint-Marie, an island in the Caribbean. Every morning, he rises with the sun, takes five clients for a swim and then meditates with them locked inside a tent made of paper in the middle of a lawn. Each client drinks a cup of tea, then puts on a blindfold and listens to whale song, each of them dead to the world around them. But one morning, the tea seems to be drugged – and when the clients awake, they find one of their number, Julie, standing over Aslan with a bloody knife, having apparently stabbed him five times.

Enter Detective Inspector Richard Poole, that most English of policemen. While it seems an open and shut case, he has some issues with Julie’s confused confession. Could she have stabbed Aslan with her right hand (as the wounds indicate) when she is the only left-handed person in the tent? Given that the crime was clearly pre-meditated, why would she allow herself to be found holding the knife? And most important, given that he must have been killed by someone who was inside the tent, why would anyone kill him in such a way?

In case you haven’t worked it out yet (or looked at the cover properly), this is a novel featuring the characters from Death In Paradise, the excellent BBC1 detective show. It features Richard Poole, the original lead character, as played by Ben Miller, as I gather Robert Thorogood started writing it when Miller was still in the show. He’s been replaced in the show – back this week on TV for a fourth series – by the equally excellent Kris Marshall but it’s nice to see him back for one last mystery here.

By presenting the book from the point of view of Poole, you get to see a little more of what drives him, although don’t expect any massive childhood trauma. For example, we discover that he always wears a suit in the Caribbean heat because “that’s what policemen are supposed to wear”. There’s a little extra insight regarding him as well, but nothing that seems at all out of place. The rest of the crew – Camille, Dwayne and Fidel – are all completely in character, as you’d expect from the series’s creator.

From the start, I’ve praised the plotting of the show – here’s my review of Episode One. There have been a few episodes where the set-up has been a little too obvious – the bird-watching one, for example – but it’s always given a fairly clued mystery. And that’s definitely what you get here.

If I was inclined to ever finish the blog, this would be the perfect place to stop. Because this is a classic mystery and no mistake. Fairly clued, a massive number of red herrings, including a couple of sly Agatha Christie references, in particular regarding one of the false solutions. Oh, and it all comes back to one misconception, and not an obvious one but one, if that if you realise it, turns the whole thing upside down. And best of all, towards the end, I had a solution. It made perfect sense – sort of – and I was delighted when Poole detailed exactly the same solution. And then I realised there was 20% left of the book to go and the solution was revealed as complete hogwash…

For fans of the series, this is an essential read. For non-fans, this is an essential read as well. There’s no need to catch up, everything you need to know is here, even if you have never even heard of the show. This is the sort of thing that The Monogram Murders should have been – a classically clued mystery with an ingenious solution that also addresses the need for why the murder needed to carried out in such a bizarre setting.

And purely to show off – I sent this tweet after I’d finished the book:

DIP1

and was absolutely flabbergasted to receive this reply from the author.DIP2

This was yesterday and I’m still grinning about it. Obviously there are many ways to interpret this, but as Robert Thorogood has never met me, he clearly didn’t model the handsome male characters on me. So I’ll happily (and incorrectly) take responsibility for the entire novel 🙂 You’re welcome. Seriously though, what a nice thing to say.

Oh, and it case you haven’t worked it out, this is Highly Recommended. An absolutely cracking read – roll on Series Four.

My previous Death In Paradise Reviews:

There’ll be a review of the series opener later this week.

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22 comments

  1. I have just finished reading this book. I regard it as a brilliant mystery novel.Suspenseful till the end.The reference to Agatha Christie in one of the false solutions was clever.
    It is a fair play mystery. All the clues are there.
    It is also very humorous with Richard Poole being the most amusing character.
    I will soon submit a review of this book at Amazon and I will have no hesitation in rating it 5 star.

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  2. Great that it’s now a book series too!
    I wonder if Thorogood kept Poole in it as he’s part of the show he’s created so he’s very attached to him. Or maybe Humphrey is owned by the BBC.
    If I had my way, every crime show on TV would be like this.

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    • Actually, it’s because he’s been writing it for a while and started it when Ben Miller was still in the show…

      He’s planning a second book – no idea if it’ll be Richard or Humphrey.

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  3. A fun little mystery, but I thought the style was pretty stodgy, even though it tried very hard to be breezy. Lots of places where cutting the final sentence or phrase in a unit would have really perked up the pace. I enjoyed the extra characterisation for Poole, but it’s a shame the rest of the team were basically ignored. Tightening things up would have left plenty of room to do something with the rest of the gang.

    I enjoyed the huge number of false solutions, but I found the real one stood out quite early on because Thorogood lays it on so thick about where the murder was committed. I know Death in Paradise house style involves a lot of repetition of facts, but that’s a lot less necessary in a book. After all, if you stop paying attention to a book, it doesn’t carry on without you!

    As usual this sounds more critical than perhaps I mean it to be. I think Thorogood has all the makings of a new Christianna Brand. But whereas she often made her Rube Goldberg plotting look effortless, here I think you can really feel the parts creaking. But it’s still a very clever contraption he’s produced.

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    • The recaps were overdone, I agree, although I disagree that they are so necessary on TV. After every advert break in most US crime drama, someone has to summarise the plot for people who dozed off or came in late. V annoying.

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      • Oh I’d prefer fewer recaps on TV as well. Especially on Elementary – Lucy Liu’s Watson is almost a brilliant character, but giving her all the recap exposition after every break makes her seem intermittently dim. How many people really tune in halfway through a program and expect to be able to catch up? So many programs bend over backwards to accommodate a negligible/non-existent part of the audience at the expense of the rest.

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      • Just waiting for a show where our hero, after hearing another recap from his/her less gifted friend asks them WHY they’ve just recapped things when they’re the only people around…

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