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by Frances Lloyd
Robert Hale, April 2009
223 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 0709087411

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Ten disparate characters - four couples and two singles - book a holiday on the tiny Greek island of Katastrophos. After a hellish crossing from the mainland in the ancient boat which serves as the only ferry, their holiday has barely begun before the hotel-owner's wife is attacked by violent food-poisoning. Then one of their number falls even more seriously ill. It is quite clear that there is something very amiss on Katastrophos. The book's main character, in as far as it has one, Coriander Dawes, a caterer whose best customer has recently died at an event she was catering, is on a delayed honeymoon with her husband Detective Inspector Jack Dawes. Coriander is very affected by the island's atmosphere, but also quickly becomes suspicious that Jack is on the trip for professional as well as amatory reasons.

NEMESIS OF THE DEAD is Frances Lloyd's first mystery and certainly displays weaknesses; it also has a couple of important strengths. Dealing first with the weaknesses, the characterisation is of a fairly rudimentary and light-hearted kind in both sociological and psychological terms - apart from Coriander and Jack we have a 'mad Professor' type and his much younger wife, two young love-struck honeymooners, a truly detestable older man and his long-suffering wife, a working-class plumber and a mysterious hippy. Of course for some of these appearances turn out to be deceptive. There is quite a bit of talk - indeed rather too much - about the mysterious 'atmosphere' of Katastrophos and a bit of near woo-woo at the end (this should not be allowed to deter anyone however - it was not offensive to my sensitive woo-woo meter!). The book could have done with some editing, is at times a little repetitive and loses pace in the middle. The prose is adequate, but the relationship between Coriander and Jack and their dialogue threatens at time to become overly affected . The villain is fairly obvious from quite a long way out although his motives and the totality of the plot remain unclear.

Which brings me neatly to the first of the book's strengths. It might be considered that taking the subject of one mystery fictions greatest works - ten strangers on an island as in Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE - was a rather audacious gambit. Actually - quite apart from approving the tribute - I think it provides Lloyd with an admirable and clear framework for her plotting. I would not claim this is brilliant but the way in which everything is tied together at the end - and one nice little twist thrown in almost en passant - is highly satisfying. The book takes plot seriously and I accord it high marks for that.

The second strength is one which not everyone will see as such. There is a good romantic sub-plot in NEMESIS OF THE DEAD - one revolving around the two characters involved emerging in unexpected lights. Certainly this belongs to the Georgette Heyer/Jilly Cooper school of romance rather than anything more profound but as I am a fan of this school I genuinely enjoyed it. The resolution of this sub-plot forms part of an Epilogue in which the fate of the various characters six months after the conclusion of the plot is examined - and for all the ending is a happy one. This is, therefore, both intended to be and succeeds as a feel-good book. If your tastes run in this direction the book is well-worth seeking out. Despite its weaknesses NEMESIS OF THE DEAD has enough competence in plotting and charm to indicate that Lloyd is an author whom it will be worth following.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, July 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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