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Sunday, 13 May 2018

‘Hell Bay’ by Kate Rhodes

Published by Simon & Schuster,
12 July 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-4711-6539-9 (HB)

Oxford, Midsomer, Shetland – and now the Scilly Isles. Soon there won't be any beautiful places left in Britain where it's safe to live.

Kate Rhodes has abandoned the mainland and opted to maroon her new detective protagonist, DI Ben Kitto, on the smallest inhabited island in the Scillies: a place she clearly knows well, given the detail, both geographical and meteorological, in which she evokes it. The island is Bryher, and it has just ninety-eight inhabitants.

Like his creator, Ben Kitto knows the Scillies well; he was brought up on Bryher and left to join a crack murder squad in London, where he's been for more than ten years. He's a damaged soul, home to lick his wounds and recuperate from a personal tragedy, but his chosen profession follows him and when a teenage girl goes missing he finds himself appointed SIO with only an enthusiastic rookie DC to help him and a DCI who seems determined to hinder.

When the girl's body is found, Ben is forced to ask himself which of his relations and old school friends is capable of cold-blooded murder. In a neat twist on the country house murder trope, the murderer must be one of the ninety-eight members of Bryher's population; no one else comes under suspicion since the weather hasn't allowed any boats to land since before the dark deed was done.

Kate Rhodes's previous series showed she was more than capable of creating a whole world between the covers of her books. In Hell Bay, the first of a new series, she achieves that and more. Ben Kitto rapidly emerges as a fully-fledged character, and by the end of the book the people of Bryher were beginning to feel as real and varied as my own friends and neighbours. There's a wonderful sense of place too; it appears that between drug-running and dodgy generators, the Scillies aren't halfway as idyllic as travel brochures would have you believe. And there's a dog with his own distinct personality, and even a hint of romance.

The killer's identity, when it's finally revealed, is both shocking and inevitable. The clues are all there to be picked up, but Rhodes is a mistress of misdirection, so I challenge the most hardened crime fiction reader to suss it out before Ben does.

As I closed the book, I had mixed feelings. First and foremost, I felt satisfied that there's a new series character whose fate I can now follow. But then I began to wonder where I can safely book a holiday next year...
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Kate Rhodes was born in London. She has a PhD in modern American literature and has taught English at British and American universities. She spent several years working in the southern states of America, first in Texas, then at a liberal arts college in Florida. Kate’s first collection of poems Reversal was published in 2005, her second collection, The Alice Trap was published in 2008. The Guardian described her poems as “pared back and fast-moving, the short lines full of an energetic lightness of touch”. Kate has been awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship, and her poems have been shortlisted and won prizes in a number of competitions including the Bridport Prize and the Forward Prize. Crossbones Yard was Kate’s first crime novel. Hell Bay is the first of a new series featuring DI Ben Kitto. Kate is currently writing full-time and lives in Cambridge with her husband Dave Pescod, a writer and film maker.

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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