Together for the 8th time, Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, embark on another case. This time, they are called to provide security for a secret conference – being held under the cloak of a debutante-like ball – on the remote Scilly Island estate of Lord Hargrave. But just as they are getting settled on the island, Lord Hargrave is killed. Over the course of the next couple days, members of the Hargrave family are being killed, and it is up to Barker to find the killer and keep all the guests safe. Barker’s plan is to hold everyone inside the estate and ferret out the killer. This leads to all kinds of accusations and mistrust; suspicions and fears drive the guests into various allegiances and pit one against the other.
Hell Bay is a locked-room thriller that will immediately remind people of Agatha Christie (And Then There Were None) or John Carr (The Hollow Man). It follows the traditional theme of a killer that seems to sneak in and out undetected while the other guests hurl accusations against one another. Barker is a rather passive investigator; he’s always reacting to a murder rather than proactively searching for the killer. It felt like Thomas wrote it this way to keep the story going, as it was fairly easy to figure the general notion of who the killer was from the first few pages. The characters are likeable, the setting appropriately eerie – lighthouses and hedge mazes – and Thomas’ writing is quintessentially British mystery in voice and pace. Readers may feel put off by the actions of a few characters at the end, but all in all, a fun little thriller.
Originally appeared in: Historical Novels Review, Nov. 2016