At the reunion of an elite school in London, an alumni who is now an MP is killed in the bathrooms and found with cocaine around his nose. Cassie, a former friend and a member of the London police force, finds herself embroiled in the case, not just because she was at the party, but also because she thinks the death may have a link to the death of a student years before. A death a group of them are responsible for. Also in the case, Det Harbinder Kaur, who has just moved to London from Sussex, and finds herself adjusting to life in a city and living with roommates.
This is the third book in the Harbinder Kaur series, and the first that takes place in London. Elly Griffiths also has written other crime series, including the Ruth Galloway books about a forensic archeologist, one of which I have reviewed: The Chalk Pit. She also used to work for Harper Collins before she turned to writing. In this series, Harbinder Kaur is a detective on the rise, a lesbian and a Sikh woman who lived with her parents in the earlier books, who are loving but traditional.
The book has chapters written from the perspective of different characters, with their name at the top of the chapter, for ease of reference. These are mostly Harbinders, but also Cassie and another woman at the reunion, Anna. This works pretty well, and is a pretty common option for books of this genre, but it doesn’t really add all that much. I find it interesting that so many books are first person these days. In style, this book takes the fairly typical, easy to read, short chapters approach that works well for stories like this. In tone, the book reads to me like a domestic thriller, though the plot and the detective’s perspective makes it a crime or mystery book plot.
I really like the idea of a crime book or series with a UK Sikh woman’s perspective and/or a lesbian detective. I think perhaps Elly Griffiths is not the best person to write this character. Harbinder was really odd to me. I don’t know about the previous two books, but in this one, it’s as though being Sikh and a lesbian are the only things about Harbinder. She has no other interests, no other personality traits, as though being either of these characteristics is an all encompassing past time. She’s also quite immature, as are a lot of the characters are in this book, reading like late teens or early twenties characters, when they’re all about 40. Characters talk about London as though they are high school kids on their first outing without their parents, they eat cereal for dinner, they play mobile games, and the way they think about each other and react to each other felt quite immature as well. It was pretty exhausting to read because on every single page the characters, and especially Harbinder, are constantly judging each other in very immature ways. A character asks if they need a lawyer, which is a normal and a smart question to ask. Harbinder takes this as being a way to let her know they earn more than her. When a school principal refers to her school as her school, which is a natural turn of phrase, Harbinder thinks she’s being elitist and that she thinks she’s the queen of the school. This kind of thing occurs several times on every page. And it’s concerning. Someone who is constantly projecting onto people like this has some serious issues. And when someone confesses a murder to her, Harbinder likes that person, so she dismisses their confession, just like that. It’s fine. No need to rake up the past. The father of the murdered person was only completely destroyed and would perhaps benefit from some answers, but no need to look further into the confession.
The plot itself really gets lost in all of this, which is ok because there really isn’t that much happening. The idea is great: the murder at the reunion, the guests being famous and wealthy, Cassie being linked to the death of a student years before and also being a police woman, a group of friends with a secret and the fact that the murder victim is an MP. The issue is really just that in the middle, the book is quite repetitive. We get the same plot points over and over, with the characters repeating themselves. There’s just not enough there. When the killer is revealed, it feels like a cheap twist. There is nothing earlier in the story to foreshadow this, so the act actually feels out of character. There’s also someone who has access to guns, which is never really explored. Guns are not so easy to come by in the UK and knife crime is more common. And perhaps most obviously, a key element in the plot is a train, but it seems like the train driver, who would have seen everything, is never mentioned. Huge plot hole.
This isn’t a terrible book, and those who like the series so far should check it out, or some domestic thriller fans might want to read this one. It’s just trying really hard to tick a lot of boxes. You can be politically aware and even woke if that’s who you are, without being cartoonish, demonising everyone you don’t like and engaging in a repetitive plot. From what I saw on Goodreads, fans of this series also had some similar opinions on this particular book in the series. More generally, I enjoy this author and will continue to read her books. (Perhaps the publisher should find a Sikh, lesbian author to write a crime or mystery series? I think that could be really interesting)
Read It If: this one might be for fans of the series so far. This isn’t Griffiths at her best, but it’s still an entertaining enough read.
With thanks to Harper Collins Canada for the copy of this book for review.