Elly Griffiths is best known for her Ruth Galloway series, which came to a halt in the North Norfolk salt marshes last year. Griffiths has set that series aside for the time being at least, but the good news for the fans of this hugely popular British author is that it gives her more time to concentrate on her Brighton Mysteries series and a standalone or two.
Which brings us to the ominously titled The Last Word – which is Griffiths’ 30th crime novel and features some characters that we have met before. This could be the place to insert a neat Venn diagram, because, well, it’s complicated. The Last Word is the fourth standalone with police detective Harbinder Kaur (although in a minor role this time, it must be noted), the third to be set in Sussex, and the second to feature the hugely entertaining Edwin, Natalka and Benedict.
It’s that trio of characters who take centre stage in The Last Word. Since their great success as amateur sleuths in The Postscript Murders, 84-year-old Edwin and Ukrainian Natalka have joined forces and opened a real-life detective agency, while Natalka’s boyfriend, former monk Benedict, carries on running his coffee shop on the Shoreham-by-Sea seafront and nurses a simmering resentment at being left out of the fun.
The agency’s work has so far been mainly catching errant husbands in flagrante, so when Edwin’s morning routine of playing Wordle and reading The Times obituaries is broken by a visit from Natalka announcing a new case – a murder no less – he is all ears. Romance writer Melody Chambers died recently, and her daughters are convinced that their pharmacist stepfather hastened their mother’s demise. Time for the sleuthing to begin.
Suddenly, Edwin’s obituary addiction comes in handy, because as the pair dig deeper, they begin to realise that other authors have recently succumbed to sudden deaths too – including the obituary writer himself, it seems. Is there foul play at play here? Funnily enough, what appears to link them all is a writers’ retreat at Battle House and soon Edwin, and a reluctant Benedict, are working undercover there in the guise of would-be authors. It’s all going so well, until one of their fellow wannabes is found dead in the garden pond…
It’s clear that Elly Griffiths had great fun writing this book, and she shows a lightness of touch and some great comic timing as the story progresses. There’s a faint glow of cosiness about it all, but fans of this author’s work will relish the well-worked plotting and impeccable characterisation they’ve come to know and expect. In among all the murder and mayhem are beautifully wrought threads of social commentary on ageing and ageism and life as a 21st century refugee.
As the pages flew by, I found myself marvelling at some gorgeous turns of phrase, and giggling out loud as our dynamic trio found themselves in a variety of funny – but all too realistic – situations. The scenes at the authors’ retreat in particular make me think that Griffiths had perhaps been to one or two! It’s a long away from the Ruth Galloway books, both in tone and in geography, but The Last Word is hugely entertaining and peopled with the kind of characters you immediately start to miss once the final page has been read.
Now Griffiths has two options – to come up with another standalone featuring Harbinder Kaur, who is now living and working in London, or one with Edwin, Natalka and Benedict. I’m guessing either would suit her fanbase, and with the Brighton Mysteries still going strong too there’s plenty to keep her at the keyboard for the foreseeable future. I get the feeling that Ruth and Nelson might be on the back burner for a little while yet…
Another bunch of offbeat would-be detectives feature in Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club series.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars