Thursday, February 8, 2024


THE LAST WORD by Elly Griffiths (Quercus, Jan 2024)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Natalka and Edwin are running a detective agency in Shoreham, Sussex. Despite a steady stream of minor cases, Natalka is frustrated, longing for a big juicy investigation to come the agency’s way. Then a murder case turns up. Local writer, Melody Chambers, is found dead and her family are convinced it is murder. Edwin, a big fan of the obit pages, thinks there’s a link to the writer of Melody’s obituary who pre-deceased his subject.

The trail leads them to a slightly sinister writers’ retreat. When another writer is found dead, Edwin thinks that the clue lies in the words. Seeking professional help, the amateur investigators turn to their friend, detective Harbinder Kaur, to find that they have stumbled on a plot that is stranger than fiction.

While prolific British author Elly Griffiths has been delighting readers all over the world with her bestselling Ruth Galloway mysteries over the past fifteen years, she hasn’t been afraid to stray from the coastal Norwich setting or her beloved forensic archaeologist heroine. It was a then-standalone tale, The Stranger Diaries, which scooped the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2020.

That book introduced DS Harbinder Kaur as a supporting character. Then in between further Ruth Galloway Mysteries, and some of Griffiths other series of Brighton Mysteries, Kaur returned in The Postscript Murders, a novel that was shortlisted for the Gold Dagger and saw the introduction of an unusual investigative trio: octogenarian Edwin, former monk Benedict, and carer Natalka, who is originally from the Ukraine. The amateurs help and hinder Kaur as she tries to uncover the truth behind the death of Natalka’s neighbour, and a potential spate of dying writers.

Now, The Last Word sees a welcome encore for the crew. After the events of the previous book, Benedict, now Natalka’s live-in beau, runs his coffee shop on the southern coast of England, while Natalka and elderly Edwin have opened an agency and dabble in minor investigations day-to-day. But with Natalka’s mother Valentyna having moved into their tiny flat from war-torn Ukraine, while her brother fights the Russians, tensions are high. What they need is a good murder to solve!

When local writer Melody Chambers is found dead and her family suspect foul play, the game is afoot. Especially after Edwin notices strange connections in the obituary pages. When Edwin and Benedict go undercover at a rural writers’ retreat, the body count rises. Are the clues on the page as well as off? Griffiths expertly reels us in, delivering a fabulous tale full of wit, intrigue, and wonderful characters. 

A thoroughly enjoyable read in a growing series, from a masterful storyteller.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned writer, editor, podcast host, and event chair. He's the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, co-founder of Rotorua Noir festival, author of Macavity and HRF Keating Award-shortlisted non-fiction work SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, series editor of the DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER anthology, and writes about books for magazines and newspapers in several countries.

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