Everything to Hide, K.V. Martins
It's going to come as no surprise to any readers of EVERYTHING TO HIDE, that author K.V. Martins is a fan of historical crime fiction, in particular, the work of Dame Agatha Christie. It should also come as no surprise that she has a background in history and archaeology.
This is a novel set in 1933 Sydney, Australia, with a strong hat tip to some of the well known interests and themes of Christie, set within the world of Egyptology, wealthy families, tyrannical fathers, weekend house parties, and a locked room scenario. In this case Detective Senior Sergeant Harold Chesterfield (his mother had the sense to kibosh his father's preference for the first name Chester), has been sent to Barry Island on the Hawkesbury River, to attend the 60th birthday party weekend of wealthy impresario and amateur Egyptologist Roland Cutherbert Barry. A thoroughly awful man, who nonetheless is known to Chief Inspector Ron Thompson, who has been made aware of a number of threatening notes that have been sent to Barry, all suggesting he is going to be held to account for past actions. Chesterfield is on the island incognito, acting as a "business associate" of Barry, surrounded by a cast that includes Barry's wife Cordelia, their three children - Claudine (call me Claudia), and sons Hartland and Grayson, as well as housekeeper Josephine and her husband, groundsman Frank Woolcott. The guest list includes the psychic Imogen Culpepper; family doctor Hugh Gregson; friend of Hartland's Nicholas Lawson; Russian ballet dancer (and lover of Cordelia) Sasha Salnikov; Egyptian journalist (and secret lover of Claudine) Tannie Karim; and opera singer, understudy to Barry's current mistress (likely to be his next) Isobel Wilde. And Ben, the dog, Chesterfield's companion and, it turns out, portent for what's to come in his future.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noted that makes up a cast of 13, not including Chesterfield. Add to that number, an island in the middle of a river that is promptly cut off from backup as a result of a massive storm, and fans of Dame Agatha's work will be well within their rights to take a very educated guess at the direction of the hat tip here. Although it's important to note that it is just a hat tip - there are lots of elements here that are reminiscent of the style and structure of many of the Golden Age writers. Set firmly within the limitations of 1933 Australia though, the island is cut off because the ferry can't cross the flooded river (and there's a darn good reason for that as revealed along the way), the power and telephones are cut off, so Chesterfield is on his own, and there's a murder - no-one should be particularly surprised who, or even how. But the cast of characters are all in play, there's an unknown quantity potentially lurking nearby, there's echoes back to Egypt, and Chesterfield's investigation (amounting to a series of telling interviews and some dotting of clues about the place), reveal that there are a lot of people on that island with very good reasons to hate the victim.
Entertaining stuff, needless to say, with good old-fashioned clue scatterings for the readers to grasp at, and an investigator with a fondness for tea, his temporarily absent wife, and dog Ben. Despite being completely on his own in the company of a murderer, he remains calm, dogged and only slightly miffed about the murder on his watch. He's also astutely observant and able to winkle out facts and leads through observation of all his suspects. He's not above a little careful misleading, all of which culminates in the classic, everyone in a room while I reveal the murderer scenario, that to be frank, this reader would have been mightily disappointed to not have.
There's much to like about EVERYTHING TO HIDE which fits nicely into the timeframe its designed to come from, with lots of habits and sensibilities that gave a very strong sense of time, to say nothing of reminders of the deprivations of the Great Depression outside this world of privilege and excess. Of course, place is important as well, and it's all here - a creepy "manor house" that's cut off from the world, filled with Egyptian artefacts lurking in every dark corner, a sublime cook dispensing scones and dog treats, even a friendly spider on the wall as a bit of a distraction. The writing style matches the themes and those looking for sparse, pointed and tight prose might be a bit disappointed. Chesterfield does muse quite a bit, he is fond of quoting the wisdom of his much missed wife and a bit of a chat with Ben the dog. Ben himself plays the role of sounding board, and occasional door guard with considerable aplomb, and as already mentioned, there's a big hint as to where this series will be heading in the wrap up.
A seasoned police detective and a dog with a nose for crime. One dead body. Twelve suspects.
Sydney, Australia, 1933 : Wealthy impresario and amateur Egyptologist Roland Cuthbert Barry is murdered on his 60th birthday, and everyone attending the evening’s celebrations is a suspect.
Detective Senior Sergeant Harold Chesterfield of Sydney Central Police has been sent by Chief Inspector Ron Thompson to Barry Island on the Hawkesbury River and the rambling sandstone house of the wealthy Barry family. Thompson is a longtime friend of Roland Barry, who has confided in him about threatening notes he has received, suggesting he will be held to account for past actions.
Harold Chesterfield discovers a curious cast of characters at Barry a long-suffering wife and an ambitious young mistress; a Russian ballet dancer who isn’t what he seems; Roland’s daughter and her lover, an Egyptian woman; the family doctor with a secret past; Roland’s two troubled sons; and the evening’s entertainment, a psychic medium, who, from the moment she steps foot on Barry Island, declares something terrible will happen.
With Harold is Ben, an English Pointer with a nose for crime; together, Harold and Ben will face their most challenging case.
Australia is in the grip of the Great Depression, and Harold is surrounded by tuxedos, sequined dresses, and sumptuous food. But when a severe storm hits and the electricity and telephone are cut off, Harold and the guests find that Roland Barry’s vast wealth cannot protect him, and Harold must uncover secrets, discover motives and find the killer.
Who knows more than they’re telling? Who has everything to hide?