A Meditation on Murder (2015) by Robert Thorogood

I was feeling extra poorly on Thursday, so I decided to jump back into my new feel-good series. This book is the first in the Death in Paradise series and last week I read the second one, The Killing of Polly Carter (2015).


‘Aslan Kennedy has an idyllic life: Leader of a Spiritual Retreat for wealthy holidaymakers on one of the Caribbean’s most unspoilt islands, Saint Marie. Until he’s murdered, that is. The case seems open and shut: when Aslan was killed he was inside a locked room with only five other people, one of whom has already confessed to the murder. Detective Inspector Richard Poole is hot, bothered, and fed up with talking to witnesses who’d rather discuss his aura’ than their whereabouts at the time of the murder. But he also knows that the facts of the case don’t quite stack up. In fact, he’s convinced that the person who’s just confessed to the murder is the one person who couldn’t have done it. Determined to track down the real killer, DI Poole is soon on the trail, and no stone will be left unturned.’

Overall Thoughts

I think Thorogood’s background in writing TV scripts is evident in the way he starts his stories. Like the second one in the series, its predecessor also begins with a prologue and the way it is written means it becomes the book version of the opening scene of a TV show before they switch to the opening credits. I am not saying this is a bad thing, but I have to admit to getting the Death in the Paradise theme tune stuck in my head after I finish these prologues and the dead body has been discovered!

The first character we are introduced to is Aslan Kennedy and from the get-go he sounds like a potential murder victim. I think the narrative offers a satire on alternative spiritual lifestyles as Kennedy’s decision to wake up with the sun is grouped with other life choices which seem more comical:

‘In fact, he’d been waking with the sun ever since he’d decided a few years back that he no longer believed in alarm clocks. Any more than he believed in money, the internet, or any kind of ‘one cup’ tea bag.’

The opening page also implies an element of arrogance that can go with such a lifestyle, when it mentions how Kennedy’s attitude towards time, ‘made making appointments with him a little trying […] But that wasn’t Aslan’s problem. Not the way he saw it.’ The beginning of the mystery reminded me of Christianna Brand’s work in that, Thorogood also plants some good subtle clues in his opening chapter. Some of these I spotted and some I did not and even the ones I did spot I didn’t properly remember them to fit them into the case as I went along. My little grey cells were not at their sharpest.

The moment of tragedy the prologue ends on is juxtaposed with the start of chapter 1, in which Richard Poole makes his first appearance:

‘A few hours before the murder of Aslan Kennedy, Detective Inspector Richard Poole was also awake. This wasn’t because he trained himself to turn delicately to each day’s sunrise like a flower; it was because he was hot, bothered, and he he’d been awake since a frog had started croaking outside his window – inexplicably – just before 4am.’

Again, this is another feature I found in the second book in the series. I think there is something therapeutic about observing Poole as he woefully resists/struggles adjusting to the Saint-Marie climate. His suffering is comical, but also maybe something you sympathise or empathise with? We do also get some great descriptions such as this: ‘he frowned like a barn owl who’d just received some bad news.’ In addition, this first book in the series provides some further details about Poole as a person, rather than as a policeman. For example, he always has the same lunch of banana sandwich, which reminded me of my grandma. His reluctance to change on this point leads to some amusing conversation:

“Seriously, Chief,” Dwayne said. “You can’t have the same lunch day after day.”

“I went to boarding school for ten years. Watch me.”

True to form, at the crime scene Poole becomes obsessed with the presence of a seemingly insignificant object, a drawing pin. As expected, his colleagues do not appreciate this and think he is wasting time on a trivial matter:

“You’re right,” Camille said, deadpan. “We’ve got a dead body over there that’s covered in knife wounds, so let’s concentrate on a tiny piece of metal we’ve found on the floor over here. In fact, I think you’re right! What if the carving knife we found by the body is a double bluff and the killer used this tiny drawing pin to stab the victim to death?”

Yet as we all know the hallmark of the sleuth made in the “Great Detective” mould is that not only do they notice commonplace things but that they see something out of the ordinary in them, which is pertinent to the case. It is a well-used gimmick, but it is one which fits Poole’s character to a tee. Nevertheless, Poole is not depicted as an infallible sleuth, as he does have to walk down a few dead ends before figuring out the correct solution. This is quite pleasing for the reader I think, rather than a detective who cryptically says they have solved the case 5 minutes after seeing the crime scene, but then do not tell you for another 200 pages.

Another parallel with book 2 in the series is that we are initially presented with a seemingly open and shut case, yet because of various intriguing aspects and irregularities uncovered, we know it won’t be so simple as all that. I think the crime scene of the first book has more of these unusual features. But that arguably goes hand in hand with its more complicated howdunnit mechanism of the plot. I enjoy how Poole quickly shows using logic and physical evidence that a seemingly straight forward crime is a more complex one and that we don’t have endless pages of the sleuth basing their actions on a vague hunch before finding something more tangible to support their ideas with.

This book also reminds me of the killer Poirot faces in The ABC Murders (1936), in the sense that the killer is manipulating the investigation through the evidence they leave for the police to find. This comes up in Poole’s investigation: ‘Someone he couldn’t quite see, but who was still influencing events. And this person was the real killer. And they were manipulating him. Manipulating them all […] It was almost as if the killer was throwing down a challenge to Richard. Was he clever enough to work it out?’ Poole also parallels at the end of this passage that sense of personal challenge which Poirot experience more directly with the ABC letters he is sent.

Something else I enjoy about the way the puzzle is constructed in this novel is that the author does not recourse to having their sleuth discover crucial evidence off the page and instead the reader is shown the data he has collected and the questions he has about it. This is gathered on his whiteboard, which is replicated in the text itself. My only criticism of this aspect of the story was that it became a bit repetitive. It could perhaps have been used less often.

I have already picked up on some of the comic elements of the mystery but I like how each book I have read in the series so far has had some kind of humorous subplot. In the second book this was the arrival of Poole’s mother on the island and in the first book it is Poole’s plans to rid himself permanently of the lizard called Harry, who lives in his shack. Don’t worry no lizards are harmed in the making of this story! Another device used to make this a funny read is that Poole’s worldview bleeds into the narrative voice at times, such as when he is talking with one of the suspects: ‘Ann looked like Margaret Thatcher crossed with a flying squirrel.’

I think my only main criticism of the book was that it was a bit long, so at times my attention would temporarily flag. Nevertheless, the puzzle kept me guessing until the end, with only my third option being the right one (not sure it counts when it takes that many attempts!).  

I am looking forward to trying the third and fourth books in the series, when they finally arrive in the post.

Rating: 4.25/5


  1. What’s going on, Kate? I also was feeling poorly and started reading this on Thursday! It’s been on my TBR pile for ages. I am pretty much in agreement with your comments, though I think I found the repetition more irritating than you did, and wouldn’t go as high as 4.25.



    • Wow our reading has seriously been in tune this year as I think we have read two books the same this year already. But to read the same book on the same day is very impressive! We should get some kind of medal or prize. Hope you are feeling better now.


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