‘When amateurs are involved… mistakes are made,’ says the detective. It is 1924 when a suspicious death occurs on board a transatlantic liner bound for New York with 2000 passengers. A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle is set up as a classic closed room murder mystery. The detective has four days to find the murderer before the ship docks in New York. Key elements are mixed together. An elderly gentleman travelling under a false name is found dead, a key witness disappears, a painting is stolen, the captain wants an easy final voyage before retirement, while a Scotland Yard detective James Temple won’t say why he’s travelling to America. The captain, who is desperate to believe the death was accidental, permits Temple to investigate the crime only if accompanied by ship’s officer Timothy Birch. They are a mis-matched pair. Grumpy Temple is irritated by Birch’s interference. Birch, whose unspecified grief makes him an outsider amongst the crew, is intimidated by Temple. They begin to interview witnesses. Soon, Birch receives a death threat.
The story is told through the first-person narrative of Birch which is limiting and repetitive. It is a feature of crime novels to use more telling – not showing – than other genres, but here the options were reviewed again and again. I struggled to trust either Birch or Temple, but trust is a major theme of the book… trust tested under duress and grief, loyalty to someone hardly known, debts owed, and the sifting of truth from lies. The classic closed room setting of a ship should add to the tension but the nautical setting was under-used in terms of adding atmosphere, claustrophobia and the countdown of days as time runs out. As the story unfolds, we realise that information is being hidden by everyone and there are two mysteries to be solved. I started to long for a second voice as an alternative to Birch, to add perspective on the mysteries and bring a change of tone.
This is a novel featuring a soul-searching protagonist that also involves a crime, rather than a fast-paced crime novel with a single focus. Neither Birch nor Temple seems to be telling the truth. When a huge twist is revealed at the end, I was left not knowing what to believe.
BUY THE BOOK
If you like this, try:-
‘Death and the Brewery Queen’ by Frances Brody
‘The Mystery of Three Quarters’ by Sophie Hannah
‘The Secrets of Gaslight Lane’ by MRC Kasasian
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A FATAL CROSSING by @TomHindle3 #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5xi via @SandraDanby