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Friday 19 December 2014

‘Broadchurch’ by Erin Kelly

From the story by TV series creator Chris Chibnall
Published by Sphere in paperback,
14 August 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5558-5

It’s a slightly odd experience, reading a murder mystery novel and knowing whodunit before I even picked it up. There can’t be many fans of the genre who don’t know who killed Danny Latimer and left his body lying on the beach in the small Dorset town of Broadchurch back in the spring of 2013.

But no spoilers here, just in case there are still a few people who remain out of the loop.

Often TV tie-in novels are thin and unsatisfying without the actors to bring them to life. Not so here; Erin Kelly is an experienced novelist, and she has made an excellent job of translating Chris Chibnall’s tight scripts into prose fiction which gives as little away but is still as rich and absorbing as the drama. Fortunately there’s a lot more to it than a straightforward murder investigation; the meat of the narrative is the effect an event of this magnitude has on a small community where such things simply aren’t expected to happen. This element is explored on the page no less carefully and sensitively than on the screen; Kelly has the knack of drawing the reader in, to the extent that when I finally put the book down, I felt as if I had been part of the tragedy which assaulted the town.

The characters and location were already in place, of course, but Kelly has brought them to life on the page just as effectively as Chibnall and the team of actors and directors did on the screen; careful use of interior monologue has, if anything, added some complexity and made them even more real. By the end Broadchurch was a familiar place, and Beth and Mark, Ellie and Hardy, Maggie and Ollie, even Karen White the incomer journalist, were people I knew.

But knowing the end meant I needed a different approach from usual. What intrigued me about the TV series, and no less about the novel, was exactly how the viewer/reader was misdirected; it wasn’t till close to the end, when the pool of suspects was beginning to run dry, that I had the slightest inkling who the murderer was, and I was fascinated to know how that was achieved. It took a while, but eventually I sussed it. All the other major characters, suspects, police and all, are given their moments behind the camera: scenes which are related from their point of view. The murderer isn’t afforded this privilege until his/her identity has been revealed.

It’s subtly done, and I had to think about it and check carefully. And there are one or two moments which made me think, would someone with a murder on his/her conscience really react like that? But that was the case in the TV version as well, so it’s not down to Erin Kelly.

Taken all round, the book is at least as successful as the TV drama – and that’s saying a great deal.  
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Erin Kelly is a freelance journalist and lives in North London with her family. The Poison Tree was her first novel.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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