No one is going to accuse of Elly Griffiths of taking too long between books. In addition to two very successful series – the thirteen novels featuring Ruth Galloway and five Brighton mysteries – she decided to write a children’s series and a collection of linked stand-alone novels. The first of those stand-alone books, The Stranger Diaries, would go on to win the 2020 Edgar Award for Best Novel. Next week, the second of those books will be released in the US. The Postscript Murders once again features DS Harbinder Kaur, one of the most unique characters in crime fiction.
DS Harbinder is an Indian Sikh lesbian who lives with her tradition-minded parents, to whom she has not yet come out of the closet. While we are in a period where readers must champion #ownvoices stories of diversity, it is nice to see some authors rise to the need for more diversity by stepping out of their comfort zone to craft fully-realized characters that celebrate people that are nothing like themselves. Respect and empathy are key here and Elly Griffiths has shown in these two novels that Harbinder Kaur is a character she is invested in and the risk pays off in dividends.
The Postscript Murders starts innocently enough with the death of a ninety-year-old resident at a senior living residence hall. The only unusual detail is that this woman was a devoted fan of crime fiction and a look at her bookshelf reveals countless novels dedicated to her and thanking her in their acknowledgements. When her caretaker, Natalka Kolisnyk, reports that someone broke into the room while she was helping the family box things up, her story is hard to believe: A masked gunman entered the room, searched for and found a particular book, grabbed it and rushed out the door.
This puts DS Kaur on the track of a literary mystery. Who was this woman and why did a thief target her home only to escape with a crime novel? Aided by the most eclectic group of amateur sleuths imaginable, Harbinder sets out to find the answers. That group of sometimes bumbling and sometimes brilliant cohorts consists of Natalka (the victim’s part-time caretaker), Edwin (another elderly resident at the senior complex), and Benedict (the owner of the local coffee shack.) Without approval from Harbinder, they set out on a road-trip seeking the truth of what happened, only to stumble upon more murders.
In The Postscript Murders, Elly Griffiths has written a love letter to and for crime fiction fans. Simply by having the original victim be a fan of these types of books is going to have the reader invested in the outcome. But Griffiths has crafted a backstory of literary history that will have readers longing to read the made-up books that play a part in the case. Needless to say, this strange trend of having this woman repeatedly mentioned in the dedications and acknowledgements of various novels only deepens the mysterious aura. There is even a whole section in the middle of the novel that takes place at the Aberdeen Literary Festival. While this particular event is fictional, fanatics of the genre will delight in seeing their beloved crime-writing conventions memorialized with such a detail-filled tribute. There is even a funny scene where Natalka meets a group of book bloggers at one of the sponsored social gatherings that are part of the festival.
The mystery at the core of The Postscript Murders is well-thought out and Elly Griffiths skillfully places both true clues and red herrings to keep the reader on their toes while they witness this inimitable group investigate an escalating series of crimes. The solution is both satisfying and bittersweet, however word on the street is that DS Harbinder Kaur will be back for another stand-alone case soon, so fans can rejoice knowing that this is not the last time we will see this one-of-a-kind detective.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.