Right on time for summer of the roaring 2020s comes the debut novel by Tom Hindle, set in the roaring 1920s. A Fatal Crossing is everything you could possibly want from a vintage crime novel, packed with dark twists, droll dialogue and tantalising mysteries galore.
Set onboard a luxury ship that sails between London and New York, and is on its way to the Big Apple, the novel is an innovative take on the classic locked room mystery. The passenger liner the Endeavour has just 4 days left of her voyage when an elderly man is found at the bottom of a staircase after a night of heavy rainfall. The captain, keen to reach New York and begin his retirement, sweeps the death away as an accident and places the body in an old cold store. After all, his is a passenger liner, and he doesn’t have the time or facilities to investigate the death. He’s happy to wait for the ship to dock and leave it to the cops in New York.
However, a Scotland Yard police officer who is onboard the ship believes that the death is no accident. Inspector James Temple convinces the Captain to let him investigate, but only under the supervision of troubled ship’s officer Timothy Birch. Initially the inspector is reluctant to accept the help, but he eventually agrees to get the investigation moving.
From the beginning, the reader is led into a world of intrigue, with new twists and turns in every chapter. The prose is very descriptive and almost military in its formation, an approach that allows the author to pack a lot into less than 500 pages. Narrated by Birch, the novel following the officer and Temple as they attempt to unravel what happened to the old man.
Quickly, the unlikely duo, neither of whom is particularly happy with the other’s presence, learn that the dead man was travelling under a false name. He’s an art dealer from Bath, on his way to the New York Art Fair, who has been meeting with several passengers onboard to discuss various deals.
One of these is the purchase of a painting believed to be the only portrait by a renowned landscape artist. The picture once belonged to the victim, but was purchased for much less than its true value by an old associate of his, who now plans to sell it at the fair for its true value. On the night of the death, the picture was stolen and a threatening note left in its place.
As the days wear on and the body count rises, our two detectives are forced to work together to uncover the truth before it’s too late. The strangely civil odd-couple pairing of the two detectives reminds me a lot of traditional Golden Age crime fiction double acts like Wimsey and Parker or Poirot and Hastings. While the situations are different, the dynamic is similar, in that one is significantly more intelligent than the other, who is more personable and likeable. Together, the pair work well and fight against the clock to find the killer and uncover the truth.
With a set amount of time before the vessel docks in New York and no way for the passengers or crew to get off the ship, the novel is a take on a locked room mystery that was incredibly popular with Golden Age crime writers. Author Tom Hindle has named Agatha Christie as one of his writing inspirations, and it’s easy to see her influence in this incredible debut crime novel. The plot is filled with twists and new information, but as we follow the narrative of the brave and observant yet unintelligent Officer Birch, the reader is easily able to keep up with each new development in the case.
So in summary, if you’re looking for a fun and thrilling historical crime caper, then A Fatal Crossing is the perfect book for you. The characters are engaging and unlikeable in the best possible way, and the plot powers along as fast as the Endeavour on her way from London to New York. The author skilfully reveals new information at the perfect pace, which keeps you on your toes from the first page to the final paragraph. Hindle is set to release another take on a locked room mystery next year, and I for one will be looking forward to checking it out.