Death Sentence, B.M. Allsopp
The fourth novel in the Fiji Islands Mysteries series, DEATH SENTENCE is slower, more measured, and reflective than the earlier entries, which makes sense, given the subject matter.
For those new to the series, it's based around the investigative team of DI Joe Horseman, a famous rugby player, returned to his homeland and working in the local CID alongside Susie Singh, a dedicated and passionate investigator in her own right. Perhaps because of the different ethnicities of these two characters - Horseman of long-standing Fijian background, and Singh, who is Fijian Indian, you get slightly different perspectives about life in this idyllic place. With a great sense of place, and culture, and the food - which isn't quite as prevalent in this novel - but will have you permanently hungry if you're reading the earlier entries.
In DEATH SENTENCE, however, the case is challenging. Dev Reddy is about to be released from prison, after serving half of the sentence imposed when he was found guilty of the horrendous physical abuse of his young son. Kanan, intellectually and physically handicapped, was found locked in a chicken coop, surviving on scraps, non-verbal, behaving like one of the chickens, but he's safe now, well-cared for, supported by an outpouring of money and assistance when his story was revealed. His father, on the other hand, has spent a fair proportion of his prison sentence in mental health care - he's obviously not well, and whilst the authorities regard him as no threat to the public, no-one is convinced that the public aren't a threat to him. Particularly when a local lay preacher starts up an organisation which might sound like it's aiming to protect children, but seems questionable on many other levels.
(It's worth noting here that in the acknowledgements the author mentions the real life case of Sujit Kumar which came to prominence while she lived in Fiji - that case is the catalyst for the idea, but most of the elements in DEATH SENTENCE are fictional).
The investigation here is a complex one, made more tricky by the arrival of Horseman's new superior officer who is, well odd to say the least, with past encounters between them complicating their expectations and interactions. Bad enough that Reddy is released with very little support, and certainly little protection, but his farm house is run down, he's exposed in a remote rural area with no immediate access to a telephone to call for help if he needs it, and he's definitely not well. Then there's the whip up of public reaction, none of which is ever going to end well. All Horseman can do is make sure that young Kanan is safe, and hope like hell he can explain what happens to Reddy, even if he can't prevent it.
As mentioned in my opening paragraph DEATH SENTENCE is definitely more restrained than the earlier novels. There's lots going on - the search for affordable accommodation, the street boy's rugby team that Horseman has set up to try to help the large numbers of young homeless kids in danger and a conflicting investigation into jewellery thefts which his new boss is considerably more interested in, but balancing acts are one of Horseman and Singh's specialities and they press on, through a fog of distractions and competing priorities until everything is explained, and nothing is left undiscovered.
A most enjoyable series for those that prefer things on the lighter side, even though this outing dips it's toe into the dark a little more, it won't be so dark as to put off earlier fans.
A notorious convict is freed. The public wants him dead.
Everyone in Fiji hates Dev Reddy, in prison for the horrific abuse of his own son. When he is released after serving half his term, the Fiji media whip up a public outcry in Suva. As protest escalates to riot, DI Joe Horseman fears Reddy's parole may prove to be a death sentence.
But Horseman defies the court of public opinion. He must even battle his new boss to protect Reddy like any other citizen under threat. Together with DS Susie Singh, he pursues blind justice through the streets of Suva and the rural backblocks. Can he unearth a killer the public applauds?
Death Sentence is the fourth novel in B.M. Allsopp's Fiji Islands Mysteries series. If you enjoy digging deep to expose the truth, this bizarre crime story is for you.