The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

August 9, 2021

The Postscript Murders is the second mystery by Elly Griffiths to feature Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur, a character who was first introduced in the award-winning The Stranger Diaries.  Harbinder is a Sikh police detective, a closeted gay woman in her mid-thirties who lives with her parents in the seaside town of Shoreham in West Sussex, England.  She is highly intelligent, with a dry wit, and appears tough on the exterior, but she has a vulnerable side.  Harbinder is afraid to tell her traditionally-minded family that she's gay.  She is often the victim of prejudice in the police and elsewhere, with people assuming she came from India, when, in fact, she was born in England, and she has not yet been promoted to inspector even though she has passed the exam.

The book begins when Peggy Smith, a ninety-year-old woman living in a retirement community, is found dead.  At first her death comes as no surprise because of her age and because she had a heart condition, but her caregiver Natalka, a young woman from Ukraine, has suspicions.  Peggy had served as a "murder consultant" to mystery authors, helping them come up with ways to murder people, and, as Natalka goes through Peggy's belongings, she finds that Peggy has often been mentioned in the acknowledgements of mystery novels.  When Natalka and her friend Benedict, a former monk who owns the local coffee shop, are held at gunpoint by a man who steals a mystery novel from Peggy's room, she realizes Peggy was murdered and goes to Harbinder for help.

It turns out that Peggy and several of the mystery authors who mentioned her have received threatening notes.  Harbinder and Peggy's friends--Natalka, Benedict, and Edwin, an eighty-year-old gay man who had been a BBC producer--go to a book signing by Dex Challoner, a best-selling mystery author, and meet with him in a pub afterwards to ask about how he knew Peggy.  As it turns out, Dex's mother had lived in the same retirement community as Peggy, and she had been an assassin for the Polish resistance during World War II.  Peggy herself may have been involved in espionage during a trip to Russia.  Her friends begin to wonder: how did she know so many ways to murder people?  The very next morning, Dex is found shot to death.  Is someone taking revenge?

Another mystery author who received a threatening note goes to Aberdeen, Scotland, for a crime writing festival, and Natalka, Benedict, and Edwin decide to go there to investigate, without Harbinder's permission.  Harbinder is angry with them, and realizes they may have placed themselves in danger.  Then another murder occurs, and Harbinder is called onto the scene.  She discovers some surprising coincidences.  Natalka had been involved in some shady activities involving a cryptocurrency similar to bitcoin before she came to England, and made enemies among the Ukrainian mob.  Two Ukrainian men had followed her to Aberdeen.  Are these the same two men who had been following Peggy shortly before her death?  Also, it begins to look as if Dex Challoner's mother, the former Polish assassin, had been murdered, and Peggy had hinted to a friend that a clue to her death could be found in a novel by Sheila Atkins, a fictitious contemporary of Agatha Christie--the very same novel that the gunman had stolen from Peggy's room.  Harbinder has to discover how all the clues fit together, and find the killer, before someone else is murdered.

The Postscript Murders is a wonderful novel, full of suspense, and twists and turns worthy of Agatha Christie.  Just when I thought I had figured out who the killer was, the plot took a turn I never expected.  This novel is a loving tribute to the golden age of detective fiction, but it is very much a contemporary novel at the same time.  Griffiths' descriptions of Shoreham and, later, of Aberdeen, are wonderful and make the reader want to go there.  I especially love the way she writes about the authors and the characters involved in the publishing industry.  I have a feeling a lot of them are based on people she knows.  Besides Harbinder, Natalka, Benedict, and Edwin are delightful characters.  The novel shifts points of view among these four characters, even though Harbinder is definitely the protagonist.

This book definitely stands on its own, and it is not necessary to read The Stranger Diaries first, even though both are excellent, and The Stranger Diaries will introduce you to Harbinder and her background.  The Postscript Murders does not have the unusual narrative style of The Stranger Diaries, in which events are told from three different points of view that contradict each other, and the reader is never sure what to believe.  This is a much more traditional mystery novel, but it is a very well-written one, and I highly recommend it.  I hope to see more of Harbinder in future novels.

The Postscript Murders is available electronically from OverDrive.