Saturday, 30 April 2016

Review: The Body on the Doorstep by A. J. MacKenzie

2016  272 pages  Zaffre

On the marshes of Kent in the late eighteenth century, Reverend Hardcastle discovers a dying man on his doorstep. Narrowly escaping a bullet himself, he is entrusted with the dying man’s last words which leave him questioning the mystery behind this anonymous man’s death. With smugglers rife along the Kent coast, it seems as though it was a simple falling out amongst thieves, but the Reverend believes the answer to this crime lies deeper. Assisted by the brilliant Mrs Chaytor they set off to solve the mystery – but with smugglers lurking all through the county and the French threatening to invade, there are unsuspecting dangers around every corner.

The Body on the Doorstep is the first novel by A. J. MacKenzie (the pseudonym of married writer couple Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel) and it’s a gripping, atmospheric page turner. From the opening pages you’re thrust in to the action and the mystery, and neither slow down throughout the course of the novel. Reverend Hardcastle’s discovery of the dying man sets off a continuous chain of events, leading to yet more murder and endless corruption in the small village of St Mary in the Marsh and it makes for a very enjoyable read.

As amateur sleuths, Reverend Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor are an interesting choice of characters to take on the task of solving the murder of the man on the doorstep, and at first I was sceptical. Hardcastle is the village rector with a colourful past and a weakness for drink, while Mrs Chaytor is a young widow and newcomer to the village, but I was pleasantly surprised to find they make a likeable and strong detective team. Mrs Chaytor is incredibly witty and brave for a woman of her period and it’s always fun to have a strong and determined heroine in a historical novel. Every character in this book has a purpose and there is a reason for every one of them to be in the story, which I find is a rare thing to come across in most fiction but it only emphasises how well the story is planned out and executed.

The plot itself is extremely clever, with numerous twists and turns that kept me constantly guessing right up until the final few pages. Some crime stories can feel predictable and lazy, but The Body on the Doorstep is fresh and exciting in addition to being skilfully written. The story is complex but not overwhelming, and I never found myself struggling to keep up as the pieces of the mystery began to fit together. The historical detail is also wonderful – I loved the gritty and dangerous atmosphere which was present throughout, and I look forward to seeing what A. J. MacKenzie produces next.

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

My copy of The Body on the Doorstep was sent to me by The Bookbag and my review was originally published on their website.

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