A Meditation on Murder is the first of the tie-in novels for Death in Paradise, a mystery television show set on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint-Marie. While this show has been running for several years I only tried it for the first time a few months ago after reading some discussions about the most recent seasons on various GAD and impossible crime blogs.
I held off on reading the novels until I was safely out of the DI Poole era out of a misplaced concern that they might spoil something on the show. As it happens I need not have worried about that – this is set early enough that there is no major continuity points to spoil. Indeed I think that the book can be enjoyed even if you have never seen an episode of the show.
A Meditation on Murder begins by introducing us to Aslan Kennedy who is part of a husband and wife team that run a spiritual retreat on the island. In addition to offering yoga instruction, Aslan hosts small private group meditation sessions in a Japanese-style paper teahouse. He selects the guests who will be invited and locks the building from the inside to ensure that they are not disturbed.
One of these sessions is in progress when a loud screaming is heard coming from inside the building. His wife and the handyman cut open one of the walls to find Julia, a part-time employee at the hotel, standing over the body holding a bloody knife. When questioned she says that she must have killed Aslan though she does not remember how she did it or why. More confusing still, the wounds seem to have been made by a right-hander while she is left-handed.
There are several mysteries that the reader will need to consider. Firstly, what motives would anyone have to want Aslan dead? Initially it seems no one has anything bad to say about him and several of the attendees are recent arrivals to the retreat, meeting him for the first time. Of course this is a murder mystery novel and so before long it will turn out that everyone had some reason to want him dead. I enjoyed discovering what those reasons were and I think does a good job of making them seem credible.
Secondly, how was the murder weapon brought into the teahouse and, thirdly, how was the murder achieved? These mysteries were both technical in nature and I admit that I was a little concerned that I had spotted how it was worked in some of the earliest chapters in the book. Instead I found the method used to be much more clever and inventive than I had guessed while playing fairly with the reader.
It is an intriguing case and I appreciated that there are several points in which we discover that things are more complex than they initially seem. As the book progresses further questions are raised that we have to solve and I did appreciate that rather than being a baffling case that proves simple, this is structured as an apparently simple case that is far more complex than it seems. This is unusual for the show but I think it works here because of the additional opportunities for character exploration and development that the novel form offers.
Thorogood does an excellent job of translating the tone and key elements of the television show’s first few series into prose. Each of the characters are instantly recognizable and feel consistent with how they are depicted in the show and I think the humorous banter between the stiff and uncomfortable Poole and members of his team works as well on the page as it does performed.
The only aspect of the transition to the page that is not entirely successful is the pacing of the adventure. At several points in the novel we are presented with a visual reproduction of Poole’s suspect board and recaps of some key pieces of evidence that seems redundant. They can be easily skipped but they do slow the story down quite a bit and repeat themselves. Hopefully some of the later novels tone this down or remove this device completely as this continual revision of the facts is less necessary in print than on-screen.
Thorogood does find some benefits to this longer form however, producing a wonderful b-plot in which Poole contemplates ridding himself of Harry the Lizard. This relies on us experiencing Poole’s thought processes in a way that would have felt awkward if attempted on-screen and provides some very funny moments as he carefully plans a lizard murder (a lacertacide?).
The only other negative I can think of with this is that Dwayne and Fidel are not given much to do in the story with the bulk of the action given to Poole and Camille Bordey. They are not completely absent from the story though and I will say that this was a complaint I often had with the first few series of the television show as well so it is not an issue specific to this book.
All in all, I think A Meditation on Murder is an excellent, light read that manages to reproduce all of the key elements from the television show itself. If you are already a fan then it is a chance to revisit the show’s first lineup and reacquaint yourself with DI Poole while if you are a newcomer you can still enjoy it as a really ingenious puzzle mystery. Recommended!