Death Holds the Key, Alexander Thorpe

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

When I read the first novel from Alexander Thorpe (DEATH LEAVES THE STATION) I hadn't quite twigged to the extent that future novels would be based around the itinerant friar figure - but it's now titled the "Itinerant Mendicant" series, and it really makes a lot of sense. He's a fascinating, elusive, all seeing, quiet and perspicacious character, and, because of his position, his look and mannerisms, tailor made to quietly slot into places without suspicion. He's therefore from the school of observant and evesdropping investigators, watching, understanding human nature, and analysing the little things. In this second novel, DEATH HOLDS THE KEY, there are also some particularly revealing insights into his past, and where he sees his future heading. Given that the timeframe is again the late 1920s, all those revelations work, as does the entire scenario around the murder of Fred O'Donnell.

Called to investigate strange goings on at a remote property, city cop, Detective Harley is confronted by a very unusual situation as he arrives at the remote rural landholding of the much disliked O'Donnell. O'Donnell is briefly visible outside the house as Hartley and the daughter-in-law assigned to escort him arrive, promptly disappearing into the house, to be immediately shot dead, in a locked room with no murder weapon in sight and a very perplexed cop right outside. Classic locked room mystery in other words, following the style of the novel, the timing of the setting, and the earlier series entry.

Given this is very much an homage to Golden Age novels, this is wordy, gentle and immersive reading. Don't pick up one of these novels if you're looking for a lot of fast paced action and much rushing about. There's quite a bit of walking about, there's a lot of chat - between the monk and the cop, them and O'Donnell's extended family and farm worker, and individually between characters and the main investigators. There's quite a bit of the monk quietly explaining what it is that the cop has just seen / heard / should have picked up and there's a lot about a developing friendship as well as highly unlikely working relationship. Which is made believable because of Hartley's lack of experience, the weirdness of the case, and the timeframe - which lends itself to perfectly to an observational style of investigation, with no forensics or investigative tools and not a lot of anything other than testimony, and character actions to go on.

Slightly on the cosier side, the personalities, and interactions between the two main characters is a big part of the attraction of DEATH HOLDS THE KEY. A classic locked room mystery, it's not too hard to work out what's probably behind it all, but the path there is engaging and the clues as to the why laid out for the reader to discover at the same time as the investigators. It's gentler reading, even though there's a shot man at the centre of the story, and the rest of the family are nicely eccentric, trodden upon, most hostage to an unpleasant man with something to hide. All of which fits with the style it's aiming for very squarely, producing a tale which was engaging and very readable.


Year of Publication
Book Number (in series)

When loathed landholder Fred O'Donnell is found dead in a locked room with a bullet in his chest, rookie Detective Hartley must seek help from a mysterious wanderer to solve the case. And it's one where everyone, including his family, has a motive and a secret to keep. 

Featuring the mendicant monk from Thorpe's previous novel, Death Leaves the Station, readers will be drawn into the world of small-town Western Australia in the late 1920s, delighting in the characters as they navigate the strained sensibilities and dark secrets of the past. 

Full of twists and turns, this seemingly impossible murder mystery is cosy crime writing at its finest. 

Review Death Holds the Key, Alexander Thorpe
Karen Chisholm
Wednesday, June 26, 2024
Blog Updates - Week Ending 21st June
Karen Chisholm
Monday, January 15, 2024
Blog Updates - Week Ending 28th June
Karen Chisholm
Monday, January 15, 2024

Add new comment

This is a book review site, with no relationship whatsoever with any of the authors mentioned here.

We do not provide a method for you to contact authors for any reason and comments of this nature are automatically deleted.

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.