Book review: Death Holds the Key by Alexander Thorpe

Saturday, March 30, 2024 Permalink

Death Holds the Key by Alexander Thorpe is the second in the series featuring a mendicant monk. Although I don’t read historical fiction I do make an exception for crime fiction of that golden era – including everything by my first love, the queen herself, Agatha Christie.

I confess I had to google what a mendicant monk was so now know it means a monk who ‘begs’. I’d originally assumed the detective (Detective Hartley) to be the main character but given he quickly tells us of his lack of experience and potential ineptitude, I was glad someone else was on hand.

Book review: Death Holds the Key by Alexander ThorpeDeath Holds the Key
by Alexander Thorpe
Series: Itinerant Mendicant #2
Published by Freemantle Press
on 10/04/2024
Source: Won
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 1760992925
Pages: 288

When loathed landholder Fred O’Donnell is found dead in a locked room with a bullet in his chest, rookie Detective Hartley must seek help from a mysterious wanderer to solve the case. And it’s one where everyone, including his family, has a motive and a secret to keep.

Featuring the mendicant monk from Thorpe’s previous novel, Death Leaves the Station, readers will be drawn into the world of small-town Western Australia in the late 1920s, delighting in the characters as they navigate the strained sensibilities and dark secrets of the past.

I found the narrative here a bit wordy in parts though realise the verbose prose may be in keeping with the more formal language of the time, particularly that of the learned friar. It did mean I skimmed some of it though – a terrible habit I know given I often spend far too long deciding what word best fits where and how to best balance the rhythm of a sentence.

I liked the cast of characters Thorpe offers, mainly comprising our suspect pool – those living with Fred. He manages to give each of them their own nuance and quickly (given this is a fairly short novel) offers some insight into their character.

The early part of the investigation was glossed over which frustrated me a little. The detective is coincidentally there at the time of the murder but then we move forward three days, during which time he’s made no progress and haven’t been privy to any of his interviews or evidence-gathering.

It’s then he runs into the monk – whose reputation precedes him – and Hartley invites him to join the investigation.

It’s only when the pair revisit the house where Fred died that readers are present as suspects (and witnesses) are questioned and secrets uncovered. Fred was universally disliked so suspects are plentiful but we end up dipping into Fred’s past and are given glimpses of how he became the man he was. And on that journey we learn a bit more about the friar as well and how he came to be separated from his past profession.

In many ways the down-to-earth Hartley is the perfect foil for the philosophising friar though I’d like the latter to perhaps partner with someone who was less acquiescent and more his match. (And I wonder if that was the case in the first book in the series.)

Death Holds the Key by Alexander Thorpe will be published by Fremantle Press in early April 2024.

I won a copy of this book from Good Reading for review purposes. 


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