I’ve not read any Kate Rhodes before but do know that she is both a celebrated poet and that her five crime novels featuring psychologist Alice Quentin are highly thought of and I get good feedback about her from readers returning library books.
With “Hell Bay” Rhodes is launching a new series featuring Detective Inspector Benesek Kitto and will be setting them in the Scilly Isles. The exact location of “Hell Bay” is Bryher, an island just to the west of the better known Tresco. Bryher is actually the smallest inhabited island with, we are told, 98 permanent residents and measures 1.5 miles with a width of half a mile at its widest point. As someone who lives on a bigger island I know exactly what that means in terms of people knowing everything that is going on and Rhodes is able to put this across brilliantly. I’m not sure how far she is intending to go with this series- the second novel is scheduled for 2019 but plausibly Bryher and the whole of the Scilly Isles are not going to have much mileage as a hot-bed of crime. In this novel alone Kate Rhodes has reduced the number of residents!
Ben Kitto was born and grew up on Bryher and returns as a retreat from difficult situations in London, which has caused him to question his future in the police force. His parents are both dead but family remains with his boat-building Uncle and his godmother who runs the pub. He knows virtually everyone on the island from his formative years there. In fact, the one person he doesn’t know draws him like a magnet.
A time of retreat and reflection with his inherited Czechoslovakian Wolfdog, Shadow, (a good canine character) is shattered by the suspicious death of a teenage girl. As Kitto is on the island already he is given the green light to investigate.
The size of the island ensures an intensity of emotions and the decision to stop people leaving without permission whilst the investigation is ongoing turns this who-dunnit into a variation of the classic country-house mystery set-up, substituting the small isolated island for the large isolated house. This works extremely well, it is always engrossing and builds nicely. I didn’t work out who the killer was (I actually rarely do) so that’s also satisfying. I really enjoyed reading this and it has confirmed what I already suspected that Kate Rhodes is a highly promising crime writer whose back catalogue I really need to discover.
Hell Bay is published by Simon & Schuster in the UK in May 2018. Many thanks to the publishers and to Netgalley for the advance review copy.