The Killing Of Polly Carter by Robert Thorogood

Polly Carter 2Detective Inspector Richard Poole is trapped in his own private hell. Not that anyone else would consider the paradise of Saint-Marie hell, but Richard Poole is a special individual. And, of course, he’s also a damn fine detective. Which is rather handy, given how many murderers seem to be lurking on the island.

Polly Carter, the famous ex-supermodel – well, famous to everyone apart from Richard – has returned to her home on the island with some friends and colleagues in tow. Polly has had a troubled life, but things seem to be getting back on track – or are they? For as Polly takes her wheelchair bound twin sister for a walk, she runs off down a staircase carved into the side of a cliff. Once out of sight to everyone, she screams and is found dead at the bottom of the steps. Suicide? Of course not. A murder weapon is soon found halfway up the stairs – but with nowhere for the murderer to come from or to go to, how on earth was she killed?

As you may recall, Richard Poole was the first lead character in Death In Paradise, played by Ben Miller in the first two series of the show. He was replaced by Kris Marshall as DI Humphrey Goodman – one of the most effective change-of-leads that I can think of in TV land that didn’t involve the word “regeneration” – but series creator Robert Thorogood has kept him around with this series of books. The first, A Meditation On Murder, is the most viewed review that I’ve written this year (although it was posted on January 5th) and was very well received, not least by me. The only drawback to this perfectly clued impossible mystery was that the killer was a bit guessable from the structure of the problem. But it was the perfect emulation of a Christie mystery, hinging on a sole misconception that once it’s pointed out, opens up an entirely different picture. But after such a great debut, could the second book match it?

Nope. Because this one is even better. If anything… I’d almost say it was flawless. The plotting is perfect, the clues are plentiful but still baffling. I was chuffed that I worked out part of it but the killer caught me out completely. You could ask a question about why someone believed that something would work but there are clues everywhere that could help you figure it all out… You won’t, but it’s all there.

Add in the humour in the writing and the characters, including the chemistry between Richard and Camille, the curtailing of whose story was the only downside of Miller leaving the show, and you’ve got a book that had me grinning all the way through. And almost applauding at the end, at the artistry in tying together things that had been hidden in plain sight into an extremely satisfying solution, complete with a red herrings aplenty – there’s one aspect of the tale that I want to discuss so badly but it would be such a spoiler…

I’ve been waiting for a while to post this review – but the book is out on December 3rd so it’s time to a) get yourself a copy and b) order a copy for your mystery loving friends for Christmas. One of the finest mysteries that I’ve read for ages… possibly that I’ve ever read. Needless to say, it’s Highly Recommended.

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18 comments

  1. Sounds fun (and I already have several competing theories about how it was done, even from your brief description, so that’s a good sign of a twisty plot)! I understand why the cast had to change, but I certainly prefer the original line-up of characters. I’m glad Poole’s career is continuing in book form.

    One question, though: is it less recap-heavy than the first one? I enjoyed the mystery there, even if it was pretty obvious, but the constant recapping really turned it into a real slog for me, and by the end I was glad it was over.

    While I think clearly delineating the puzzle is essential, especially for this kind of mystery, I don’t think the “whiteboard method”, which works well on the show, transferred smoothly to print at all…

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  2. I really, really, really wanted to love the first book but just did not get on with it at all; too much recapping, essentially one clue that was deliberately interpreted in about five ways that made no sense to “disguise” the one way that did, and generally structured more like an episode of the TV show (big fan!) rather than a novel. You have, however, convinced me that this is worth a look and so I shall definitely give this a try when it comes out. If this doesn’t work for me, though, I’m only prepared to buy another eight or nine of his books before giving up on him…

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  3. I was wondering when you’re going to post the review for this book. Dang I didn’t realize you’ve already posted it on the 23rd, which I missed on your Twitter posts. Anyway, thank you for the review. I’m getting quite excited to read it now that you’ve ‘revealed’ a tidbit of sort that I’ll be grinning (hopefully) about, too. Will you be writing about the ‘one aspect of the tale’ (read: spoilery) you mentioned in a someday/future blogpost? Just wondering. Thanks again. 🙂

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      • I did enjoy it, and I agree the plotting was very good. However, I found the writing style to be somewhat unpolished, like that of an inexperienced author. This applies especially to the narrator’s part, with the dialogue being better and sometimes recalling the witty dialogue of the tv show.

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      • Yeah. I just finished this, and Thorogood really needs some coaching or editing, but unfortunately this just isn’t the kind of book publishers are interested in spending much time on, because the audience is already established, and they think the extra work won’t translate to more sales.

        The dialogue is good and sometimes great (especially if you imagine the cast delivering it!), but EVERY SINGLE nuance or implication of the dialogue is immediately explained in the prose. It’s infuriating, and it wrecks the pacing of the jokes, which were already pretty gentle to begin with.

        Richard’s hardly a complex character! We can work out that he’s a pompous hypocrite without having it painstakingly explained every time he says something pompous or hypocritical.

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  4. FINALLY got round to reading this (I got the hardback edition so it didn’t make the cut for my travels) and… meh. Not sure why it blew you away. It’s a really nice setup, but unfortunately like a lot of impossible crimes the impossibility doesn’t have much play in it so Thorogood just… ignores it? The crux of the problem, with the phone and the suicide attempt is barely looked into, except to remind us that it’s really, really important. Which stands out because so much of the narrative is given over to Richard turning other, less important details over in his mind. And the solution to the phone stuff is pretty obvious, so it feels like Poole was a bit dim to have not made ANY progress until he suddenly just works it out.

    Also the solution, despite being pretty easy, is actually a massive cheat. If you go back and reread the relevant description, it completely contradicts what actually happened. Bit disappointed in that really. I don’t expect Thorogood to blow me away with the writing, but I expect him to play fair.

    Finally (and I know this might seem a silly criticism to lay at the feet of Death in Paradise) but it felt a lot less realistic than MEDITATION ON MURDER, which, while contrived and silly, had some clever psychology at the heart of it. All the drug stuff in this felt tacked on and unconvincing, like when Agatha Christie tries to write about young people. Which would be fine if it was an irrelevant subplot, but it’s not.

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