First Sentence: Harold Throgmorton’s face was florid.
Cyrus Barker has been asked to provide security for a secret conference being held during the house party of Lord Hargrave on a remote, private island. Barker travels there with his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, and his innamorato, Philippa Ashleigh, to join the Hargrave family, guests, and staff. Almost immediately, there are two murders, the only exit from the island is gone, and the means of signaling for help has been destroyed. How many more will die before Barker and Llewelyn uncover the killer.
Although the prologue plays into the story much later, it really could have been omitted entirely. Doing so might have made the first death on the island even more startling and effective.
The historical information Thomas provides is both interesting and serves to provide a sense of place. It allows us to feel as though we are standing alongside our protagonists. In this particular case, it also illustrates the differences in the disposition of the two protagonists.
The plot has decided overtones of Agatha Christie. However, there is a clear difference with a reference to the danger of inexperienced individuals rushing about with more guns than good sense.
Thomas’ voice, as conveyed through the past-tense, first-person narration, is a perfect balance of often-tense scenes—“I was pressed against the closest shutter reaching across when another bullet came, striking the outside of the shutter.”—offset by occasional wry humor—“As for “Annabel Lee,” one cannot go wrong when reciting Poe. I’ve always thought the man was one part hack and three parts genius.”
Thomas Llewelyn is such a wonderfully drawn character. Not only does he provide the narration, but it is through him we come to know Barker, and observe all the other characters. He is a character that has experienced the harder side of life, and has a strong moral code. That said, he is not perfect, and one can enjoy his frustrations with Barker.
Where Barker is somewhat enigmatic, Mrs. Ashleigh, a recurring character to the series, is particularly effective here. Being a widow of independent means, she has more freedom and strength than other women of the time—“I’m not a house of cards, to be blown over by the slightest breeze.”
The plot is very cleverly constructed. Just when you are led to suspect someone, it becomes very clear that you’re wrong. There is, however, one hint given one can really wish had not been included. Conversely, there is a lovely fantasy created that we, the readers, can embrace, only to have it well, and truly smashed in a very dramatic fashion.
“Hell Bay” is a very good book. It is filled with red herrings, surprises, danger and surprises touches of humor, all of which keep the reader satisfyingly off balance.
HELL BAY (Hist Mys-Baker/Llewellyn-England-1800s/Victorian) – VG
Thomas, Will – 8th in series
Minotaur Books – October 2016