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Review of 'A Killing at Smugglers Cove' - Michelle Salter

Wartime secrets, smugglers’ caves, skeletal remains. And the holiday’s only just begun…

July 1923 - Iris Woodmore travels to Devon with her friends Percy Baverstock and Millicent Nightingale for her father’s wedding to Katherine Keats.

But when Millicent uncovers skeletal remains hidden on the private beach of Katherine’s former home, Iris begins to suspect her future stepmother is not what she seems.

The police reveal the dead man is a smuggler who went missing in 1918, and when a new murder occurs, they realise a killer is in their midst. The link between both murders is Katherine. Could Iris’s own father be in danger?

This is the 4th instalment of the Iris Woodmore series and it's a slight departure for our lady detective. Her father and Katherine are getting married, so everyone has relocated to Devon in anticipation of the wedding. When Iris, Millicent and Percy stumble across a body, they are immediately drawn into the intrigue and mystery surrounding the events both during and after the war. Iris is on top form and although Elijah and Horace take a bit of a backseat in the story, they are on hand to act in their usual capacity as Iris' sounding board and to rein in some of her more outlandish theories.

We also find out more about Iris' own back story and it was nice to see her relationship with Katherine develop more amicably. At least now, Iris seems to recognise that her dislike of her soon-to-be stepmother is essentially unfounded and stems from some of her own insecurities and experiences. It was about time - for someone so often good at picking up on the motivations of others, she sometimes seems remarkably short sighted about her own emotions and behaviour. However, I think given the age she was when she lost her mother, this is probably not particularly surprising and although I find it frustrating at times, I think it adds to the depth of character being developed. I'm hoping that she will now turn that same personal insight into her love life and notice what we, as the readers, picked up on in the last book.

Books which take the protagonist away from their usual haunts serve to take them out of their comfort zone and to allow new avenues and areas to be explored (otherwise every crime series would end up with a Midsomer Murders level of body counts). Sometimes they work and the character flourishes, sometimes they don't and the character doesn't work outside of their usual surroundings. Iris is a character who can definitely travel, particularly when they key people in her life come along for the ride and in Millicent, I think she has found a sidekick who is much better suited to life with Iris than perhaps her former friend was. I find myself as intrigued by Millicent as I am by Iris and I look forward to the developments in her life as much as I do Iris'. Percy too, shows previously hidden depths in this book and I am hopeful that this is a side to him that will continue to be explored. The best books set in the inter-war period don't shy away from the effects of the war on those who fought in it and although I recognise that in a cosy crime series there are limits to how far this can be explored I think it does the genre a disservice to imagine that it cannot be referenced at all. In this series, Michelle Salter does more than reference it - indeed, it's at the very heart of this book - and I hope there will be more of the same in future books.

Bring on Book 5!

Michelle Salter writes historical cosy crime set in Hampshire, where she lives, and inspired by real-life events in 1920s Britain. The first book in her Iris Woodmore series, Death at Crookham Hall, draws on her interest in the aftermath of the Great War and the suffragette movement.

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