Simon & Schuster | 2019 (Hb), Pb 2020 (19 March) | 376p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is Bonfire Night and the tiny community of St Agnes, one of the smaller islands of the Scilly Isles, gathers together to celebrate. It is also DI Ben Kitto’s birthday but he’ll be spending it on duty, supervising the bonfire and fireworks. But the party comes to a sudden and horrible halt when the remains of a person, burnt to death, are found on the appropriately-named adjoining and even tinier Burnt Island. Next to the body is a message scratched in stone, written in Cornish, warning intruders that they will die. There are clues at the scene that link the murder to Jimmy Curwen, a silent, strange and isolated man, known as the Birdman, but others on the island aren’t so sure. And when threats start appearing, also written in Cornish, Ben suspects that the killer wants to rid the island of newcomers. Then he, too, receives a message, and there are more fires.
I am such a huge fan of the Ben Kitto series and was so pleased to read Burnt Island, the third. Each of the books stands alone well and so you can easily enjoy the novel without having read the others but I have really enjoyed following Ben’s story as it develops through the stories. Ben was born in the Scilly Isles but he left to be a detective in London. He returned to the islands to be the Deputy Chief of police there and is now rediscovering his sense of place, working out his relationship with friends and family on the islands, as well as with the community, which doesn’t quite know how to regard him. Ben’s relationships with his deputy, Eddie (now a sergeant!) and his superior, the prickly DCI Alan Madron, are such a highlight of the novels. I love Eddie and his conscientious and cheerful character is such a contrast to Ben’s.
Ben Kitto is our narrator and so we see the islands and their people through his eyes. This is particularly effective because he is both an insider and an outsider and, like everyone else, has to deal with how to get along with a small number of people in a remote place that, at times, can be even more cut off due to the weather, as is the situation in Burnt Island. Families don’t always get along and friendships and relationships can be complicated. Ben feels all of that keenly. He is such an interesting man but, even more than I like Ben, I love his dog! Shadow plays his part in the novel perfectly.
The story is such an enjoyable one, made more so because we know that there is a limited pool of suspects and each one of them is quirky and secretive. Most people keep themselves to themselves. It all makes the job of detection that much harder for Ben and Eddie. But what makes these novels so wonderful to read is the location. Kate Rhodes writes so beautifully and evocatively about the Isles of Scilly. In each of the novels we move around the Isles, visiting different and lovely islands. This time we’re on St Agnes and it sounds absolutely fascinating and I am so keen to visit it as a result of reading Burnt Island.
If you’re searching for an escapist read that is really hard to put down and is full of such colour and interest, then I can heartily recommend Burnt Island. I can’t wait to spend more time with Ben and Eddie, and Shadow, of course.