A Meditation on Murder (1 January 2015) by Robert Thorogood
When it comes to books, 'cosy crime' has never really been my thing. From what I can figure out, 'cosies' invariably seem to involve dreadful pun-laden titles, a disproportionate amount of plots revolving around baking, and people solving murders with the aid of their pets. TV, though - that's a different matter. The TV equivalent of this sort of thing, from Midsomer Murders to Miss Marple to Rosemary & Thyme, has long been a source of comfort to me, and over the years I've accumulated a decent collection of boxsets of these series to watch when I'm ill, depressed or otherwise in need of distraction and relaxation. For whatever reason, they've often helped to get me through depressive periods when little else would lift my mood.
The first two series of BBC1's Death in Paradise, a murder mystery comedy-drama set on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint-Marie, has become part of this pantheon of comforting TV, and in recent times has become my go-to feelgood show. It surprises me sometimes that Death in Paradise doesn't get more credit for the things it does differently, and the things it gets right: I can't think of an equivalent series (primetime, mainstream drama, screened on a major UK channel and considered a flagship show for that channel) that only has one white main cast member, or that's had episodes
addressing the legacy of slavery, treating Vodun as a serious religion, and condemning the actions of British colonists and French settlers in the Caribbean. But it's a comfortable sort of show, intended as cosy midweek entertainment, and I'm aware it's silly to analyse much of it in any further depth than that.
Of course, any cosy mystery worth its salt has to chuck in some romance, and across series 1 and 2, the unresolved tension between DI Richard Poole and his (professional) partner, Camille Bordey, quietly became one of the best things about the show. But then Ben Miller, who played Richard, decided to leave, and the character was ruthlessly killed off, taking any hopes of a love story with him. I still watch Death in Paradise - casually, kind of - but I've never quite forgiven it for quickly and brutally dispatching Richard and then making all the other characters forget him almost instantaneously. This is the disadvantage of cosy shows: the lack of realism means nobody is really allowed to process emotions in a believable way. Richard was immediately replaced with Humphrey Goodman, played by Kris Marshall, who bumbles about treating Camille as a glorified sidekick and patronising her. Even worse, the most recent episodes have attempted to set up a sort of 'will they/won't they' romantic tension between Humphrey and Camille. Twitter creeping has revealed that there are some people out there who think they have amazing chemistry, but I assume they've been watching a different show to me.
One of the big draws of this tie-in novel - the first in a planned series of at least three books from series creator and screenwriter Robert Thorogood - is that it features the original (dream) team of Richard, Camille, Dwayne and Fidel. If you've seen the show, there will be nothing surprising about A Meditation on Murder, and if you enjoy it, you will probably like this too. There's an ensemble 'guest cast' of characters - a group of people staying at a luxury spa hotel on Saint-Marie, plus the resort's owners and their shifty handyman - and a locked-room mystery. The characters from the show, particularly Richard, are recreated absolutely perfectly, their voices and individual quirks completely intact. Richard's lizard Harry even puts in a few appearances. The comedy is handled really well, and plot twists are clever but gentle: just the way cosy crime should be. It's about as heart-warming as murder can possibly get.
There are flaws, of course. Information is often repeated in dialogue, in a way that would probably make sense spoken aloud, but looks like unnecessary padding when written down. It lacks nuance, especially in the characterisation - characters with a couple of strong, broadly painted distinguishing physical/personality features may work well on screen, when we can see the differences between them, but can be quite cartoonish in a book, when these traits have to be reinforced frequently. (Example: I think Anne might be overweight, but it's difficult to tell, since her weight, size, shape and her being 'larger than life' (groan) are only mentioned about 5000 times.) And finally, there's a bit of silliness between Richard and one of the female characters which seems so unlikely, even in this light-hearted context, that it stands out rather awkwardly.
It's unclear at this point whether the books are designed to portray an 'alternate timeline' Death in Paradise or whether they take place within the known world of the show. In other words, can anything happen in these stories that hasn't already happened in the series (say, vis-à-vis Richard and Camille's relationship... just to throw out a random example...), or are these mysteries supposed to be taking place in between those already depicted on screen, prior to Richard's death? It wasn't until after I finished reading A Meditation on Murder that it occurred to me: Thorogood is still working on Death in Paradise, so he's unlikely to develop Richard and Camille's relationship in the books, given that the series appears to be persisting in trying to make Camille/Humphrey a thing. This thought, admittedly, makes me feel a bit dejected. But you know what, I'll probably read all the books in the series regardless of their imperfections: it's lovely to see these characters living on in some form.
I received an advance review copy of A Meditation on Murder from the publisher through NetGalley.
Rating: 6/10 | Twitter | Goodreads | Tumblr | Bloglovin' | Buy on Amazon: Kindle & Hardback