Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur, a cranky, tenacious British detective with a chip on her shoulder and a soft spot for her elderly, overbearing parents, debuted stateside in Elly Griffith’s 2019 novel, THE STRANGER DIARIES. The book was a staff and patron favorite, so I was delighted when Harbinder returned this year in THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS, a cleverly plotted ode to mystery authors, fans, and armchair sleuths everywhere.
When nonagenarian Peggy Smith passes away, her home health aide Natalka knows it’s not due to natural causes. But DS Kaur, overworked and underestimated, isn’t convinced — that is, until Natalka catches a masked gunman in the dead woman’s apartment. The gunman escapes with a book, and Harbinder’s interest is piqued.
Peggy, it turns out, was a “murder consultant,” who helped mystery authors plot their books. When one of her authors also turns up dead, it’s clear that life is imitating literature, and a killer is on the loose. As Harbinder works the case, she’s joined by a trio of self-appointed sleuths: health aide Natalka, a former monk-turned-barista, and Peggy’s dapper elderly neighbor. The unlikely detectives uncover evidence, provide a healthy dose of comic relief, and gradually befriend a reluctant Harbinder.
Like its predecessor, THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS is rooted in a well-paced, tightly plotted mystery and incorporates plenty of nods to the genre, from the way it skewers the publishing industry to its clear fondness for golden-age mysteries. Like an Agatha Christie novel, nothing is wasted or extraneous — small details matter, and the misdirections are meaningful, and the characters are vibrantly drawn. Harbinder herself is dryly funny, prickly but secretly kindhearted, clever but not infallible, but like the like the very best of her predecessors, her personal trials don’t overwhelm the central mystery — instead, they enhance it. The result is a gem of a story — a classic mystery with a contemporary feel and a nuanced, appealing detective I can’t wait to spend more time with.