compelling | witty | fast-paced
what it says on the cover …
The pandemic is spreading.
On Friday, three civil servants leading Virus policy hold a secret meeting at the Museum of Plagues and Pandemics. By Monday, two are dead and one is missing.
It’s up to Mona and Bernard of the Health Enforcement Team to find the missing official before panic hits the streets.
For a sneak peek at Chapter One, follow this link to the Sandstone Press website.
PUBLISHED: 18th April 2019
SHELF: Fiction | Mystery
AUTHOR: Lesley Kelly
PUBLISHER: Sandstone Press
FORMATS: Paperback | Kindle | AudioBook
my review …
Death at the Plague Museum is the third book in the Health of Strangers series. Like books one and two, it was written before the Covid outbreak, but it’s borne of a spookily prescient post-pandemic world so, having read the first two novels at the height of our real-world situation, I decided to give all things germy a break for a while. But, I’ve now had my first jab so I’m feeling 76% (according to the British Medical Journal!) brave … and I was really looking forward to catching up with team at the North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team.
Before I get into my review, I’d like to say this is a series that you really need to have followed from the very start. Death at the Plague Museum is a great, self-contained story, but it follows hot-on-the-heels of book #2, with lots of references to characters and events from that book, and they all play an important role in this latest instalment. Equally, to have missed out on previous two books is to … well … have missed out! They are cracking-good reads, and they each end with a superb cliff-hanger, so the only way to put your mind at rest is to start the following book.
By way of a bit of need-to-know, spoiler-free, back-story, these books are all set in Edinburgh, two years after a deadly pandemic has swept the world, killing over 100,000 in Scotland alone. The government has responded by setting up regional Health Enforcement Teams (HETs) whose responsibility it is to ensure every member of the public attends a mandatory, fortnightly health check. Anybody failing to attend is essentially hunted down by the team and strong-armed to the nearest health check point. The North Edinburgh HET is grudgingly made up of Mona, Bernard, Maitland, and Carole; a discordant collective, unenviably headed up by John Paterson.
True to the excellent form so firmly established in the first two novels, Death at the Plague Museum boasts a fast-paced plot, a gripping mystery and unpredictable twists, all underpinned by a signature dark humour. Each book spans a five-day period, with chapters that end on mini-cliffhangers that are the wordy embodiment of a page-turner.
In an unintended stroke of ‘luck’, there are some remarkable similarities between the latest storyline and last week’s real-world events. In the first two novels, the synergies focused primarily on the day-to-day management of a country recovering from a pandemic. This time, the life-imitates-art occurrences were just as prophetic … inappropriate liaisons, press leaks, a shifty government advisor, masked protestors, plausibly deniable meetings, and even a trending hashtag. It felt more than a little uncanny to be reading this book in the afterglow of Matt Hancock’s ‘moment’, and Dominic Cummings’ direct line to mass media!
Death at the Plague Museum is weighted more towards the mystery and investigation than in the previous books, most likely because books one and two have carried the reader through the worst of the pandemic. By freeing the characters up in this way, the author has been able to really stretch out into the crime-thriller arena, giving us readers a chance to see what Mona, Bernard and the team are really capable of. Unfortunately for the HET, their health check defaulter on this occasion is one of the country’s most senior virus response strategists … and her disappearance happens to coincide with the ‘suicides’ of two equally influential experts. The week before this grisly incident, these three high-ranking civil servants had all attended an off-the-radar meeting at the Edinburgh Museum of Plagues and Pandemics, with a notoriously ruthless and short-tempered MSP.
With so many influential names involved, it’s no surprise the stakes have been well-and truly upped. Likewise, the reach of those determined the stop the truth being uncovered is considerably greater. It soon becomes clear that not only are the HET in the direct line of fire, they appear also to have a mole amongst them. The fractious, mismatched team pull together as best they can, giving rise to the wry humour and witty barbs that I can’t help laughing along with.
As the story spirals towards its thrilling conclusion, once again kind-of-heart but cowardly-of-spirit Bernard finds himself in the right place at the right time … or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on your outlook. If your mindset is similar to Bernard’s then you’re definitely thinking the latter. Meanwhile, Mona is pleasantly surprised at Bernard’s uncharacteristic burst of bravery (could it be that his heroics could win the heart of the studious woman of his dreams?), whilst gung-ho Maitland misses the main action on account of having just been blown up whilst taking a crafty nap under the table in the conference room.
Death at the Plague Museum is a hugely enjoyable addition to the Health of Strangers series … I’m only sorry I left it so long before getting round to reading my copy. It ends with an absolutely stonking cliff-hanger, so there’s little chance of me seeing out my 12-week interval between vaccine jabs before I get started on book four; Murder at the Music Factory. This really is a gem of a series … it brings sardonic wit to the crime-thriller genre, or tension and suspense to the humour genre … either way, Lesley Kelly has created a brilliant story here, and it’s one that’s really deserving of a huge and faithful following.
If this book sounds like one you’d love to read too, here’s a selection of purchase links:
• To buy direct from the author/publisher, click ☞ here
• To support independent local bookshops, click ☞ here
• To feed your Waterstones ‘plus’ loyalty card, click ☞ here
• And of course, here is the ubiquitous Amazon link
Lesley Kelly has worked in the public and voluntary sectors for the past twenty years, dabbling in poetry and stand-up comedy along the way. She has won a number of writing competitions, including The Scotsman’s Short Story award in 2008. Her first novel, A Fine House in Trinity, was published by Sandstone Press in 2016, and was longlisted for the William McIlvanney Prize. Her Health of Strangers series is published by Sandstone Press in 2017. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and two sons.
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