Simon & Schuster | 2018 (25 January) | 404p | Review copy | Buy the book
DI Ben Kitto is on extended leave from the Metropolitan Police. Something has happened that has made him want to re-evaluate his career, his whole future. But he’s good at his job. The Met don’t want to lose him and so for now the best he can do is go back home to the tiny island of Bryher, the smallest of the inhabited Scilly Isles, back to the house in which his family has lived for three generations, that now stands empty. Ben arrives at the tail end of a storm and the timing couldn’t be worse. Sixteen-year-old Laura Trescothick has been found dead on the beach at Bryher’s Hell Bay, a knife wound through her heart. No ferries have sailed from the island since she went missing. Laura’s murderer must still be on the island and this is a place where everybody knows everybody.
Hell Bay is the first in a new detective series by Kate Rhodes and it is a pleasure to read. The setting of Bryher is such an appealing one. It is winter and the evenings are long and dark but this doesn’t detract from the beauty and isolation of this most westernmost of islands. There are few tourists at this time of year and so the population is very small, all confined to a few houses, a pub, a hotel. There are no cars, people get around by foot. The paths are ill lit at night. The sea pounds the beaches. It’s hugely atmospheric and even more so when you can feel the eyes of a murderer behind your back. The classic crime fiction concept of a murder taking place within a confined group of people, whether on an island or in a country house, is much loved and it’s done to fine effect here.
Ben Kitto is a fascinating main character. Trauma has driven him back to Bryher but it’s all dealt with quietly, there is no great drama. Much of it is internalised and he works through it by helping his uncle build boats, or by walking his dog that he’s not sure he even likes (although we certainly do). This is a place where people go to heal – and Ben isn’t the only one to do just that – and so the fact that Bryher is also the scene of murder and such suffering and grief is even more painful and jarring. This is a place where you shouldn’t have to lock your door.
Ben is supported by a great cast of characters, made even more interesting by the fact that every single one of them is a suspect. I loved moving around the island, getting to know them all.
Hell Bay is such an enjoyable well-written mystery. It’s a great book to curl up with, so evocative in its sense of place. The plot is also a very good one. I’m delighted to say that it kept me guessing right to the end. It has big themes – family, friendship and community – but these provide as much comfort as they do uncertainty. This is such a good start by Kate Rhodes to her new series. Ben Kitto returns – with the dog – in Ruin Beach in 2019. This is good news indeed.
River of Souls