The Beauty of Murder
A K Benedict
Orion Books (pp 392)
You’ll have to bear with me because I’ve never reviewed a crime novel before and The Beauty of Murder by AK Benedict is quite a doozy to kick off with.
First of all, let’s look at the story: Stephen Killigan is a new Junior Fellow at Cambridge University. He stumbles upon a woman’s body in a churchyard, but when he reports it to the police, the body is nowhere to be found. He soon finds himself caught up in a game of cat and mouse with a manipulative killer that sees him learn to travel back to the Cambridge of the 1700s and desperately try to untangle a web of contemporary and ancient murders.
The main character, Stephen is an unusual kind of guy – not your typical university lecturer – Northern for a start! He’s got tattoos and likes to tinker and fix things. From the outset we are rooting for this ‘outsider’ to the rarefied air of Cambridge: He’s smart, he’s possessed of a warped sense of humour, keeps his friends close by him and clearly tries to do the right thing. Inititally I wondered why he was a Philosophy lecturer; would it make the whole book too high-brow? But when the time travel sets in, we really do need someone whom we can truly believe is mentally dextrous enough to able to cope with a changed reality, not throw themselves screaming from the top of a dreaming spire. Good call.
The tone of the book shifts as frequently as Killgan changes centuries, but not to its detriment. As a reader it kept me on my toes – a thrilling bit, a macabre bit, a really sad bit and POW! A really funny bit. All stitched together beautifully.
I totally buy into the fact that time travel is possible for Stephen and the rules of it as they unfold through the book (eg – you can’t change what happens by going back). The only time when the plot wobbled for me were the REASONS for the murders. Even now, I’m not entirely convinced I understand it, but, oddly it hasn’t detracted from my enjoyment of the book one whit. Maybe because the reasons for murder are often hidden from us and we are more interested in the catching of the killer, than the why of the killing?
There are paragraphs and sentences in this book that stopped me in my tracks and I wish I’d stuck little post-it notes to the sections so that I could find them again for this review. Here’s one, found at random:
‘I’ve been thinking of finding an artist,’ I say.
He looks at me and places his head to one side. His forehead contracts like bacon strips frying.
Ooooh – I love that last sentence because you know exactly what his forhead is doing AND, because the guy is a butcher, it’s even more appropriate. Love it!
‘The University Library looms over the Cam like a silent-movie villain. There’s also the whiff of a crematorium about the dark brick tower in the centre; as I walk up the steps I expect it to puff out the ashes of books and brains, laughing maniacally.’
For me, that’s delicious to read.
There is a glorious cast of vivid characters to support the story, my two favourites being a couple of the women in the book – the eccentric Iris (think of the poem When I am Old I will wear Purple, by Jenny Joseph) and the dedicated cop and devourer of biscuits, DI Jane Horne. Great pen portraits of characters that I wanted to know more about.
Despite still being a bit wobbly on the reasons for the murders, I found The Beauty of Murder very satisfying. I was, at one point, reading it at 3am, slightly out of my tree on cough medicine – but I couldn’t stop reading!
At the end of the book, all the queries that I had were answered very satisfactorily and the loose ends neatly tied up and squared away … and A K sets everything up for the next book. Oh yes, there are another six of these adventures in AK’s head!
I can’t wait for the next one!
What do you think of The Beauty of Murder? Who were your favourite characters? What were your favourite parts of the book? Looking forward to the next in the series?
Tell me everything …..
The Beauty of Murder by A K Benedict is available from Print Point and Rothesay Library.