Book Review: The Killing of Polly Carter by Robert Thorogood

Title: The Killing of Polly Carter
Author: Robert Thorogood
Publisher: Mira
Publication Date: 3 December 2015

Rating: 4 out of 5

Twitter: @robthor


Supermodel Polly Carter was famed for her looks and party-girl lifestyle. Now she’s dead, apparently having thrown herself from the clifftop near her home on the island of Saint-Marie. Those who knew her say Polly would never have killed herself…and when he is called in to investigate, DI Richard Poole is inclined to agree there is more to Polly’s death than meets the eye.

Already fighting a losing battle against the intense summer heat of the Caribbean, Richard now faces fresh adversaries: a stream of alibis; a host of conflicting motives; and, worst of all, a visit from his mother. A frenzy which would surely allow a murderer to slip away unnoticed…yet Richard is certain that the guilty party is still on the island.
As his team closes in on Polly’s household, Richard becomes convinced that the model’s death was an inside job. And he’s determined to prove who planned the killing of Polly Carter, and why…

Whilst you may not have read the books, you will probably have heard of the BBC TV series Death in Paradise created by author Robert Thorogood. I love the TV series and, as such, I was in two-minds about reading The Killing of Polly Carter. It is always disappointing when books and TV adaptations differ dramatically and I didn’t want to risk ruining my enjoyment of the TV show. However, I’m a big fan of murder mysteries, so I decided to take on that risk and give the book a go.

Thorogood’s Death in Paradise series tell the tale of British Detective Inspector Richard Poole following his move to the fictional Caribbean island of Saint-Marie. The Killing of Polly Carter is the second book in the series and follows DI Richard Poole as he investigates the apparent suicide of a supermodel, Polly Carter. He quickly suspects foul play and so commences the investigations into her death. 

I love a good whodunit and The Killing of Polly Carterdemonstrates the pattern typical of classic murder mysteries: starting with a murder, adding a limited pool of suspects, some police deduction and then a gathering of those suspects in order to unveil the murderer. I can appreciate this particular formula as I believe it puts demands on the author to create a really good plot and characterisation, otherwise the book quickly falls flat. As the reader, I like to be able to get stuck into the story – identifying potential motives, creating my own narrative and detecting any ‘red herrings’ as the story progresses in order to be able to reach my conclusions and guess ‘whodunit’. In my opinion, Thorogood achieved these aims and allowed me to join in with the detective work!

The characters are a mixed cast, led by the bumbling but brilliant detective Poole and his unique team of investigators. The main characters are quite heavily stereotyped, with DI Poole as an uptight and awkward Englishman abroad, whilst his colleagues in the police department are typically laid-back Caribbean folk.

The suspects, made up of Polly’s wheelchair-bound sister Claire, her staff and a few other house guests, all of whom appear to be hiding something from the astute DI Poole. The characters are given sound backgrounds and identifiable motives to murder Polly Carter. Any of the characters could ultimately have been found to be the killer and, as such, it is interesting to follow along with the story and decide who you think had the opportunity to carry out the crime. 

This is a bit of a chicken-egg situation for me. I am unsure which came first, the books or the TV show. In any event, the books are written in such a fashion as to make them easily adaptable for the screen. I found that whilst there are differences to the TV show, I still got the same sense of character, albeit having watched those characters on the screen first meant that my expectations may have translated into how I chose to interpret them on the page. I actually found that I got more of a feeling for the main characters from the TV series, which is somewhat unusual as I think that I normally get more of a sense of a character from the book rather than from the corresponding TV show, however on this occasion it felt the opposite but that may be because I feel as though I know those characters that I have been watching for the past few years. It may also be because the book focused more on the murder than on the individual characters. This is not a criticism, merely an observation.

I thought the plot was well-crafted , well-paced and entertaining. All of the houseguests/suspects have a motive to kill Polly and it is up to DI Poole and his team to whittle those suspects down in order to find out what really happened. It was interesting to read about the police investigation and to experience DI Poole’s unique thought process. DI Poole is certainly one of those coppers who does not rest until he’s caught his man/woman!

From the very first paragraph, it is obvious that the book (like the TV show) contains a light-hearted/comedic element, particularly in relation to DI Poole’s dislike of the Caribbean weather and relaxed way of life. I loved that comic tone throughout the book. The Killing of Polly Carter is definitely of the classic murder mystery genre rather than a psychological thriller. This one won’t give you any goosebumps, but it will give you a few hours of intrigue and some chuckles along the way. 
The story contained a subplot relating to a visit from DI Poole’s mother, which is distracting him from his work. She’s flirting outrageously with Office Dwayne Myers and DI Poole does not know what to do for the best. This subplot is not necessary for the progression of the book, yet it helps to personalise DI Poole and helps the reader to understand why he is how he is.
I love the setting on Saint Marie and now have Guadeloupe on my list of must-see places in the future. Certainly, a Caribbean setting is a nice change from the gritty inner-city settings of my usual thrillers.
It has been a while since I’ve read a good old-fashioned murder mystery (à la Agatha Christie) and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It is a well-written, funny and thoroughly satisfying read – a classic murder mystery with a comic Caribbean twist. I  certainly hope that there are going to be more additions to the Death in Paradise series.
About the Author
Robert Thorogood is the creator of the hit BBC One TV series DEATH IN PARADISE.
He was born in Colchester, Essex, in 1972. When he was 10-years old, he read his first proper novel – Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House – and he’s been in love with the genre ever since.
He now lives in Marlow in Buckinghamshire with his wife, children and an increasingly cranky Bengal cat called Daniel.
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