The Endeavour sets sail from Southampton carrying 2,000 passengers and crew on a week-long voyage to New York.
When an elderly gentleman is found dead at the foot of a staircase, ship’s officer Timothy Birch is ready to declare it a tragic accident. But James Temple, a strong-minded Scotland Yard inspector, is certain there is more to this misfortune than meets the eye.
Birch agrees to investigate, and the trail quickly leads to the theft of a priceless painting. Its very existence is known only to its owner . . . and the dead man.
With just days remaining until they reach New York, and even Temple’s purpose on board the Endeavour proving increasingly suspicious, Birch’s search for the culprit is fraught with danger.
And all the while, the passengers continue to roam the ship with a killer in their midst . . .
With it’s 1920s setting and closed-community premise, there’s more than a whiff of Agatha Christie about A Fatal Crossing, the debut crime novel from Tom Hindle. However, whilst the stylings may be classic crime fiction, this transatlantic mystery soon ventures into thriller territory with a shady detective, a dash of mob violence, and a final twist that will leave reader’s gasping!
When the crumpled and rain-soaked body of an elderly man is found dead at the bottom of a companionway after a stormy night, the majority of the passengers and crew aboard the steamship Endeavour believe it to be a tragic accident. Certainly the ship’s captain, McCrory – two days into his retirement voyage and only four days out of New York – is all too happy to set the matter aside as swiftly as possible. So when obstinate Scotland Yard detective James Temple is insistent upon investigating the death, McCrory demands that ship’s officer Timothy Birch accompany him.
Taciturn, reclusive, and largely ostracised from the rest of the crew, Birch makes for an unusual companion for the brash and fiery Temple and, sure enough, it isn’t long before the two butt heads over Temple’s confrontational investigative style. However, when it emerges that the elderly gentleman was an art dealer travelling under a false name – and that a rare painting was stolen on the night of his death – Birch has to reluctantly admit that Temple might be onto something. As the investigation progresses and another death occurs, Birch and Temple must work together to catch a deadly killer. But with both detectives keeping secrets of their own and the Endeavour steaming across the Atlantic towards New York, can they complete their investigation before time – and their tempers – run out?
Personally, I found both Birch and Temple to be quite challenging characters to spend time in the company of. Both men are keeping secrets that, over the course of the novel, gradually emerge to become part of the wider story and that do, eventually, make them slightly more sympathetic but I have to admit that, even after these revelations, I struggled to warm to either of them. Temple, in particular, felt a little two-dimensional and both men were capable of rapid and irrational mood swings that, at times, felt as if they were serving the plot rather than ensuring well-rounded characterisation.
I also found the writing somewhat awkward at times, with Birch in particular obsessing over – and repeating – certain facts. As an example, once he realises that character possesses a revolver – and begins to worry about what might be done with it – it gets mentioned three times in the space of two pages and several more times over the course of subsequent chapters. Although this is a relatively minor niggle in the grand scheme of things, it was something that, once noticed, I couldn’t un-notice!
This was a great shame as the plotting really doesn’t need this heavy-handed signposting. Indeed, the intriguing plot and the eclectic cast of side characters is what kept me reading and preventing A Fatal Crossing from becoming a DNF. There’s some brilliant misdirection, plenty of subtle red herrings and, as I mentioned at the start of my review, a fantastic twist in the tale that I definitely didn’t see coming!
I also really enjoyed the sense of time and place that Hindle conveys. From the quiet luxury of the first-class cabins to the hubbub of the third-class common areas and the sparse utility of the officer’s quarters, A Fatal Crossing conveys a real sense of life on-board a luxury liner, and hints at the wider political and social concerns in 1920s Britain and America.
Although not every aspect of this novel landed with me, I’m glad that I stuck with A Fatal Crossing – and I’d definitely read more by Tom Hindle in the future. Although the characters didn’t quite gel for me, the impressive plotting and regular twists and turns kept me reading and the ending, although definitely pushing at the boundaries of plausibility, was certainly unexpected! Fans of historical mysteries are sure to find a lot to enjoy here, especially if they don’t mind exploring the darker side of human nature and enjoy their Golden Age crime with a thrilling twist.
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My thanks go to the publisher, to NetGalleyUK, and to the Motherload Book Club for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.
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