The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should absolutely not be suspicious. DS Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing to concern her in carer Natalka’s account of Peggy Smith’s death.
But when Natalka reveals that Peggy lied about her heart condition and that she had been sure someone was following her…
Although Peggy Smith is ninety with a supposed heart condition, living in sheltered accommodation, she has all her wits about her. Her flat looks out over the bay in Shoreham-by-Sea and she enjoys nothing better than keeping an eye on goings on, sitting in her armchair in the bay window with binoculars to hand, sometimes making detailed notes of who she sees and what they appear to be doing. She is visited on a daily basis by carer Natalka, who works for the Care4You agency. This particular morning Peggy notices something out of the ordinary that piques her interest.
The two men have been standing there for eighteen minutes. Peggy has been timing them on her stopwatch. They parked on the seafront just in front of Benedict’s café. A white Ford Fiesta. Annoyingly she can’t see the registration but, if she uses her binoculars, she can see a dent in the nearside door. If they have hired the car, the company will have taken note of this. Peggy makes a note too, getting out her Investigation Book which is cunningly disguisedas A Seaside Lady’s Diary, complete with saccharine watercolours of shells and fishing boats.
There are several reasons why Peggy finds the men suspicious. They look out of place in Shoreham-by-Sea, for one thing. Sometimes, just for fun and to keep her observational powers honed, Peggy makes an inventory of people who have walked past her window.
When Natalka finds Peggy dead in her chair later that day she and the owner of the agency assume it was a natural death. After all, Peggy was ninety, not forgetting the added complication of a heart condition. Yet, when Natalka is packing up Peggy’s collection of books she notices Peggy is mentioned in the dedications and acknowledgements by many of the authors, including local author Dex Challoner. It seems Peggy was a murder consultant, helping authors with plot points and innovative ways to murder people.
On the surface it seems like a natural death, nothing suspicious about it. On the other hand it seems unusual for Peggy to be mentioned in so many books, whileclassing herself as a murder consultant. Natalka isn’t convinced Peggy’s death was natural and after talking to Peggy’s friends, it’s decided Natalka should go to the police. DS Harbinder Kaur thinks about the conversation she’s just had with Natalka while driving home. The claims of a suspicious death are taken much more seriously after an incident at Peggy’s flat.
I enjoyed this cosy murder mystery encompassing most aspects of the literary world although I didn’t realise it was a follow on from a previous book. However, it’s perfectly able to be read as a standalone. A small diverse and engaging groupof Peggy’s friends take it upon themselves to help the police by initiating their own investigation into Peggy’s death, which takes them to Aberdeen. Besides Harbinder, and Natalka we meet 80 year old Edwin, an ex BBC researcher and broadcaster, and Benedict who used to be a monk but now owns and runs a beach cafe.
Elly Griffiths has created an unconventional and well drawn cast of characters who develop fully as the story progresses, while learning their backstories along the way. They get themselves into all kinds of trouble as more murders occur during a story peppered with twists, humour and danger.
Elly Griffiths was born in London. The inspiration for her books about forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway came from her husband who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist. Elly lives near Brighton but often spends holidays on the wild Norfolk coast. She has two children and a cat.