The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton by Katherine Hayton – 2016

magdalene lynton.jpgThis is cold case mystery story telling at its best – in fact the case was determined not to be a case at all forty years ago when a determination of accidental drowning was made – but now there is more than one person claiming responsibility for the death of Magdalene Lynton, and a lot more suspects turning up. And what makes the solving of this cold case so satisfying is the character determined to sort out what actually happened – Detective Ngaire Blakes.  Blakes is a cop with a traumatic incident in her recent history, and she encounters more such incidents as this story progresses.  She is a physical and mental wreck, and does a good deal of the investigating while not officially working for the Police – off on sick leave.  She carries guilt and fear, and misreads her work environment completely – she also does a quite reprehensible thing to her friend and colleague during the story.  In other words: she is a mess, but she is also determined to give Magdalene some measure of justice.  Blake becomes involved in Magdalene’s story when Paul Worthington, a frail man with terminal cancer, arrives at the Police Station to confess to the crime.  When Blakes puts Worthington’s version of events alongside what was discovered at the time of the death, and all of that alongside the scant information gleaned from surviving witnesses, the pieces don’t fit.  Blakes is assisted in her investigations (both official and unofficial) by two friends.  First is her Police colleague Deb, and second a reporter Finlay – whose background knowledge of the victim and the religious community she came from was the only thing in the plot I found slightly contrived.  We discover Blakes through her colleagues and the reaction of those she interviews – as her own appraisal of herself is tainted by trauma and guilt.  She is compassionate and brave – worthy of forgiveness and loyalty – someone who looks beyond the obvious to try and get to the truth.  She makes judgements about other characters by what she finds out about how they behave rather than what they tell her about themselves – and I really liked that the reader also starts to judge Blakes by her deeds and not what her thoughts ‘tell’ you about her.  Forty years of silence about what happened to Magdalene testifies to the fact that Blakes is not the only character to err when judging their own culpability and worth.  Magdalene’s story is tragic and the characters we meet: e.g. the lawyer William Glover who used to be Magdalene’s boyfriend Billy, Magdalene’s mother Mary, Isaiah who grew up in the religious community with Magdalene – are all complex and believable.  Some of the Americanisms (presumably added for the US market) jarred a bit in the NZ setting, but I found The three deaths of Magdalene Lynton a great murder mystery, with a flawed but noble main character that I want more of.

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