‘Whoever did it must have read it.’

When local author and recently retired teacher Liam Allerton is found drowned in Barnes Pond, just like the retired teacher in his debut novel, it’s a curious case of life imitating art – or rather, his death imitating his art – but when DI Garibaldi reads Allerton’s novel, it seems this is only the first of some startling coincidences…

What’s it about?

The eerie similarity between the deaths of Alex Ballantyne and his author, Liam Allerton, begins with a drowning. Alex dies the night of his retirement drinks at The Sun pub; Liam dies the night of his book talk after having drinks at The Sun pub; and both are found floating in the same spot in Barnes pond. It’s impossible for the detectives not to look closely at Liam’s book to check for parallels, which quickly mount up.

DI Garibaldi reads and re-reads the novel, searching for clues, but even as the parallels persist he and his team try to maintain a broader view of the case. Just because Liam died in the same manner as his character doesn’t mean the book holds the key to his murder – or does it? It’s certainly holding the key to something, and there are four rather worried teachers who may have featured in Liam’s book as victims of blackmail and who were definitely at The Sun pub with Liam the night he died.

Was Liam also a blackmailer? Are any of the teachers guilty of the crimes Alex accused his colleagues of? Or do the answers lie outside the pages of Liam’s novel?

What’s it like?

This is a slow paced police investigation, summed up beautifully at one point by the detective himself, outlining the scope of both Allerton’s ‘Schooled in Murder’ and O’Keefee’s ‘Every Trick in the Book’ whilst ostensibly commenting on the former! This was one of the elements I most enjoyed: there’s a very entertaining focus on reading and evaluating crime fiction that implicitly encourages readers to reflect on O’Keefe’s novel as much as Allerton’s. While Garibaldi concludes that Liam’s story, ‘Has its flaws but it’s actually pretty good’, his colleague is concerned that it’s all a ‘Bit unlikely, isn’t it?’ But Garibaldi notes that:

‘People don’t read these things for their truthfulness, do they? If they did we’d have pages and pages of him sitting at his desk reading reports, wouldn’t we?’

This is the kind of gentle playing with the boundaries of fiction that I enjoy and I found it a genuine source of pleasure.

The plot itself unspools a little repetitively; we visit the same four teachers and get the impression they are worried…then we revisit them and they are a bit more worried, then we…you get the picture. Garibaldi and his colleagues talk about Allerton’s book and the parallels to his death, then they say that they really shouldn’t look exclusively at the book, but it’s hard to escape it when there’s so many bizarre similarities, and then they talk about the book again. I enjoyed all the theorising about the book and random facts about other books, but I also wanted them to realise the obvious connections and the spot the very logical villain!

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed all the talking about the book, but in terms of the actual crime solving, it felt like that mostly happened in the last five minutes of the story and was largely due to an unforced error on the villain’s part and the late fixing of similar on the police side. Garibaldi prides himself on being smart (he’s very keen that everyone know that, actually, graffiti is plural, so the vandalism encountered later on in the story should be referred to graffito, singular!) so I would have liked to see him spot the obvious. He did work out several things, but I think these initially distracted him from the logical conclusion. Obviously if he had, that would have potentially made for a much shorter or a very different story!

O’Keefee writes well and this is easy and fun to read. I enjoyed Garibaldi’s characterisation (I absolutely will be using that graffito fact) and the scenes with his family didn’t feel like they were interrupting the main action. This book is the third in a series and it worked well as a standalone, probably at least in part due to Garibaldi’s quite positive characterisation. Although he has nothing good to say about his ex-wife, he’s perfectly cheerful and his biggest concern (other than the fact that he appears to be still getting advice from his dead mother) in this book is that his son briefly staying with him stops him frolicking with his girlfriend. All in all, I’d be quite happy to try another book in this series.

‘Every Trick in the Book’,
Bernard O’Keefee,
2024, Muswell Press, paperback
Many thanks to the author, publisher and Anne Cater’s Random Things Tours for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and a spot on the blog tour.