Kate Rhodes launched her Scilly Isles based crime series at the beginning of this year with “Hell Bay”. I was particularly impressed by the intensity she managed to build up around the location of Bryher, the smallest inhabited island with less than one hundred permanent residents. The ramifications of murder on such a close-knit isolated community were fascinating. Perhaps, understandably, the author has widened her net a little here (she couldn’t keep bumping off those poor Bryher residents) and focused the action on the neighbouring island of Trescoe with double the population and a more touristy feel.
This population begins to decline when a diver is found dead in a cave. An object found jammed in her mouth suggests that this was no accident. D I Benesek Kitto, who grew up on and has now returned to the Scillys, together with Czechoslovakian Wolfhound Shadow (in the course of two novels already up there amongst the best dogs in fiction) are on hand to investigate. We get a first-person narrative from Kitto interspersed with some short third person sections which drive the plot forwards.
It becomes apparent that Jude Trellon, the diver, has been killed because of what she knows about shipwrecks around the coasts of the islands and secrets kept means others are in peril. Kate Rhodes does characterisation very well and as well as developing her human (and canine) characters she is also able to convey the sea convincingly as a main character in the novel, which is like some of the island residents, calm and co-operative one minute and destructive and deadly the next. Atmosphere-wise, however, I do not feel that this has that edgy intensity I enjoyed so much in “Hell Bay” and the plot here did not feel as impressively tight, there did seem to be quite a lot of recapping which affected pace at times but this is a very satisfying crime series and with the next novel “Burnt Island” planned I will certainly be looking out for it.
Ruin Beach was published by Simon & Schuster in hardback in November 2018. The paperback is due in February 2019. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the review copy.
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.