Art of Death, by Laurence Anholt
This book, published in 2019 by Constable, London, ISBN 978-1-47212-999-4 [Paperback, 2020] is the first of what promises to be a series of books featuring a character called The Mindful Detective, which suggests that the stories are not going to be run-of-the-mill police procedurals. On the evidence of this first one, the series promises to feature an ‘odd couple’ detective pairing, which is by no means unknown, but the male detective in the pair is somewhat unusual in that, first & foremost, he is taking an extended period of leave, so he has to be subtly persuaded to join his colleague in this unusual murder case, but also that he has pursued a path of spiritual enlightenment to help his recovery from a distressing trauma. He is Detective Inspector Vincent Caine, and prior to his detachment from full time police responsibilities, he was already sufficiently different from the average detective to have acquired the sobriquet The Veggie Cop. His perplexed colleague is Detective Inspector Shantala [aka Shanti] Joyce, who is divorced, with an eight-year old son.
The story is set in Devon and, although that is not specifically my old stamping ground, it does roam about sufficiently from Cornwall in the west, via Somerset, to west Dorset in the east, for me to feel somewhat at home in the locations. Shanti has recently been transferred to Yeovil from London, after a humiliating failure in a recent case, so she is keen to repair her reputation by turning in a good result on her first murder case in her new ‘patch’. The murder of a “famously narcissistic performance artist”, whose public profile had slipped somewhat since her early controversies (and who might just bear a passing resemblance to Yoko Ono), is sufficiently perplexing to persuade Shanti to ask her subordinate Benno (Detective Sergeant Bennet) to recommend a suitable partner to assist her, hence DI Caine. The 43-year old artist, Kristal Havfruen, had been found immersed in a transparent tank of formaldehyde, when it was revealed at a public event in Devon; it was supposed to be a lifelike effigy of herself, something the artist made regularly, in the tank, but by the time it was realised that this was the real thing, it was, unfortunately, too late.
The banter from world-weary Shanti does seem slightly forced, as she initially tries to persuade Caine to relinquish the world of mindfulness & lack of urgency, and then keep him in a conventional police mindset to identify & apprehend the killer, but thankfully for me, it didn’t become irritating, so the contrast between the two different approaches worked quite well. There are also the beginnings of a “will they or won’t they” [i.e.: get together] scenario which will, undoubtedly, be developed in forthcoming stories. The author, Laurence Anholt has an interesting background, coming from a Dutch family with roots stretching back to Persia, and he also knows very well one of the locations in the book, Falmouth School of Art, having studied there, as well as the Royal Academy in London; also, his interests include meditation and walking on the Undercliff at Lyme Regis, another location in the story. The dénouement is not too much of a stretch, and it is certainly plausible, so this makes for a very pleasant and undemanding read: I will be quite happy to read any further adventures of The Mindful Detective and his gnomic utterances!