Burnt Island (Ben Kitto) by Kate Rhodes
|Burnt Island (Ben Kitto) by Kate Rhodes|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: It's number three in the series but reads well as a standalone. The quality is on a par with Rhodes' other work, which makes it a series to follow. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: October 2019|
|Publisher: Simon and Schuster|
|External links: Author's website|
The 5th of November was D I Ben Kitto's thirty-fifth birthday and the occasion for the usual bonfire celebrations, but it would be marred this year by the discovery of Professor Alex Rogan's body on a bonfire. He'd obviously been alive when he was put on the fire and can only have died a terrible death. The body was first discovered by Jimmy Curwen, better known on St Agnes as the Bird Man because he speaks little or nothing and his only concern is the welfare of the birds he looks after. His instinct is to cover Rogan's body and he uses his sheepskin coat to do this, with the result that he's the prime suspect.
Discovering a previously-unknown police procedural series of novels is a rare treat, particularly when they're written by an author as accomplished as Kate Rhodes: I've long been a fan of her Alice Quentin series, but hadn't known of Ben Kitto until I picked up Burnt Island. It's the third book in the series but I found that it read perfectly well as a standalone, with just enough information that you didn't feel adrift and not so much that you didn't feel that it was worth going back to the earlier books in the series - which I will be doing.
It's the first time I've read a story about crime in the Scilly Isles: with a population of just 2,200, you'd hardly think that a police presence was necessary, but Kate Rhodes blesses the islands with seven officers. Ben Kitto is Deputy Commander of the Scilly Isles Police and not impressed with his immediate superior, DCI Alan Madron, a man who is more bothered about his reputation than justice. He's always immaculate, with the parting in his hair looking as though it had been 'precision-engineered'.
It quickly becomes obvious that the murderer has something against incomers: there's a delicate balance between needing tourists or new residents to create income and not having so many - or for so long - that they spoil the atmosphere of the islands.
The murderer must be on St Agnes and Kitto refuses to allow anyone to leave, creating a pool of suspects of just sixty people. It's not quite a locked-room mystery, but close to it and Rhodes delivers a cast of residents designed to keep you guessing. They all come off the page well and I was never in the position of trying to work out who was who. I had several people pencilled in as the murderer on various occasions, but completely missed the real wrong 'un. It's classy plotting as well as excellent characterisation.
The Scilly Isles are almost a character in their own right: Rhodes really brings them to life and although she has taken some liberties with the geography of St Agnes, you get a real feel for what life must be like there. A couple of maps are supplied and I found these very useful.
As well as reading my review copy of the book (thank you, Simon & Schuster) I listened to an audio download, narrated by Stephen Perring, which I bought myself. I thought Perring was going to be a little stiff, to begin with, but we both relaxed into the story very quickly and I went through the book far more quickly than I was expecting. I'd happily listen to more from Perring, who has an excellent range of voices.
If you'd like more about policing in the Scilly Isles we can recommend The Life of a Scilly Sergeant by Colin Taylor.
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