PS: thanks for the murders.
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…
And that Peggy Smith had been a ‘murder consultant’ who plotted deaths for authors, and knew more about murder than anyone has any right to…
And when clearing out Peggy’s flat ends in Natalka being held at gunpoint by a masked figure…
Well then DS Harbinder Kaur thinks that maybe there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all.
Having really enjoyed Elly Griffith’s previous standalone mystery The Stranger Diaries back in 2019, I was keen to read more of her work. Unfortunately however her more established Dr Ruth Galloway series didn’t quite gel with me, so I was delighted by the announcement of The Postscript Murders, Elly’s second standalone mystery.
I say ‘standalone’ but Goodreads has this listed as the second in the DS Harbinder Kaur ‘series’. This is possibly a tad misleading. Whilst DS Kaur did appear as one of the investigating officers in The Stranger Diaries, she wasn’t the protagonist and the two novels can be enjoyed entirely separately – the mystery in The Postscript Murders is entirely standalone and DS Kaur now takes centre stage as one of the viewpoint characters, alongside an eclectic cast of amateur sleuths. There are some nods back to The Stranger Diaries – references to Harbinder’s friend Clare, the protagonist of the previous books – but nothing that requires you to have read that novel in order to enjoy this one.
The Postscript Murders sees DS Kaur and her colleagues investigating the death of a 90 year old lady called Peggy Smith. Peggy had a heart condition so, at first glance, there seems to be nothing unusual about her demise. When her carer Natalka and ex-monk friend Benedict are held up at gunpoint in Peggy’s apartment – and when the gunman steals an obscure golden age crime novel – it does begin to look as if there may have been more to Peggy’s death than meets the eye. When it becomes apparent that Peggy acted as a ‘murder consultant’ for various well-known crime novelists – and when one of those novelists ends up with a bullet to the head – Harbinder realises she’s got a rapidly evolving and complex case on her hands. One that she could do really without Natalka, Benedict, and Peggy’s elderly neighbour Edwin getting wrapped up in.
Combining the ‘cosy’ amateur sleuthing of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club with the literary mystery of Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, The Postscript Murders is a wholly engaging read that alternates between Harbinder Kaur’s official investigation and the amateur sleuthing of Natalka, Benedict, and Edwin.
Harbinder really comes to life in this book and makes for an enjoyably cynical narrator and I really liked finding out more about her family and personal life in this book. Living at home with her elderly parents Bibi and Deepak (both of whom are an absolute delight to read about on the page), Harbinder finds it challenging to balance her job with her role as a daughter in a close-knit Sikh household – especially when Bibi falls over the family dog and requires additional care. Harbinder is also hiding the fact that she is gay from her family – and is doubting whether a thirty-something woman with a successful career should really still be living at home and spending her evenings playing Panda Pop. Watching her puzzle through both personal and professional dilemmas was one of the highpoints of the book for me – and I loved that, whilst Harbinder has both family and professional problems, Elly Griffiths didn’t turn her into the traditional ‘detective with issues’. Instead we get a portrait of a warm, loving family, and a respectful – if occasionally frustrating – professional environment – and of a woman working through where exactly she fits into it.
Natalka, Benedict, and Edwin, meanwhile, are a delightfully eclectic set of amateur sleuths. Carer Natalka is witty, confident, and captivating – but is running from painful memories and dangerous enemies back in her native Ukraine. Ex-monk turned barista Benedict, meanwhile, knows he’s fallen out of love with seminary life – but can’t quite find his place within the secular world. And former TV producer Edwin – stuck living at Seaview ‘Preview’ Court – faces a lonely existence without his friend Peggy. As this unlikely trio begin investigating Peggy’s death, they form friendships and bonds that are really lovely to read about. And again, whilst each of the trio have ‘baggage’, this is dealt with in a reasonable and realistic way.
I also really liked the way the plot centred around the literary world and, in particular, the world of crime fiction. There is a knowing and witty portrayal of the bookish community in The Postscript Murders that is sure to delight many readers – even us bloggers get a mention! And whilst there are several deaths in the course of the novel, there isn’t anything especially gory or violent – for the most part, the book stays firmly in the realm of ‘cosy’ crime in a similar way to the Golden Age mysteries to which it pays some homage. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of unexpected twists and turns along the way to finding out ‘whodunnit’!
Overall, The Postscript Murders is a charming and engaging mystery bought to life by a cast of vivid and endearing characters. Combining a well-plotted and page-turning mystery with plenty of warmth, wit, and humour, it is the perfect read for fans of The Thursday Murder Club or Magpie Murders, as well as anyone seeking a contemporary mystery that has all the hallmarks and charm of the Golden Age.
The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths is published by Quercus and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for providing an ecopy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
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