Hell Bay – Will Thomas

It’s funny – I didn’t realize till I took a look at the other books in this series that I had requested a sample of the first book, Some Danger Involved, a while back. I never bought it. I’m glad now.

This started out rather well. I always begin a book with the expectation of giving it at least four stars, and mentally adjust accordingly, and the prologue was darkly entertaining. Those expectations seemed pretty safe.

Before long, though, issues with the writing began to crop up.

The idea is that the great and inscrutable private enquiry agent Barker is called in as security for a French ambassador at a secret meeting on an island in the Scillies; this is being camouflaged by a house party. Barker doesn’t like house parties or bodyguard work. I know this, better than perhaps anything else, because I was told so many, many times – between his own grumbling and the main character/narrator’s slightly gleeful commentary, it felt like it was reiterated at least a dozen times. Barker tries to wiggle out of it by suggesting a security force –

“I might make a recommendation to you, it would be to hire a full detail of guards, even if they are not needed. There is too much that could go wrong.”
“The French ambassador insists upon privacy. He wishes to come and see how his favorite goddaughter is doing, and has no desire to see the island full of British men in uniforms.”

So, basically, the ambassador is a moron. This is borne out by the events of the book, in which the island equivalent of a country house party disintegrates into, basically, Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, and the ambassador becomes remarkably sulky over taking even basic precautions. He does bring an extra special French James Bond, Delacroix, with him – but Delacroix comes onto the island well after the ambassador, has a quick chat with Barker – and then leaves. He’s a foodie, you see, and he wants to get back to the boat and into the galley. I’m still struggling to understand how someone can be an effective bodyguard when not even on the same land mass. Of course, when the bad guy kills him he has an even harder job being any kind of bodyguard. It’s kind of hilarious when the ambassador insists on heaping praise on him for the rest of the book, considering he did nothing but die en route to a fish dinner.

What really baffled me about this was that the author then has the ambassador commenting that the island was “too large … to be watched over by just two men.” Well … yeah.

The main character/narrator, Thomas Llewelyn, began to annoy me very early on. “I regarded the two young women I was warned against, and found them a trifle wanting.” One reason for the house party, you see, is to marry off the young scion(s) of the house, and Llewelyn had best not interfere with that. But – despite the proprieties, and despite a fiancee back home, he is tempted. He’s a twit.

The writing was not terrible (though it does need a good editor to deal with spelling, punctuation, and homonym errors – a gun shot is not a “rapport”, one does not “stare” an opinion, one does not “fair” better or worse, and when one cannot “bare” to discuss something I begin to lose my grip on my temper) – this is why it gets two stars instead of the one I kind of want to give it. But it did try too hard in places, hammering a point home when a softer touch would have been more than sufficient. And, not to be repetitive, the author has a tendency to repeat himself.

As mentioned (oh no, the repetition is contagious!), people suddenly start getting picked off one by one. I don’t know if the writer was aiming for irony, or trying to create a poignant situation for the Great Hero Barker and his sidekick Llewelyn, or simply wanted to try his own hand at Ten Little Indians, but it was in truth just sad to read on the one hand Llewelyn’s worshipful tributes to his boss, and on the other hand see person after person die on his watch.

“I was hired as security for this event.”
…”You’re not doing very well at it, in my opinion.”

I wouldn’t hire the guy.

And if someone could explain to me why it was only after the violence begins that Llewelyn – hired as security – hurries off to get his gun, I’d … never mind. Not interested. Especially after he later, in the middle of things, curses himself for once more leaving his revolver in his room. Really? Someone could pop out of any corner or hedge at any moment to try to kill you or, more importantly, one of the people you were hired to protect, and you’re unarmed? Again? I hope these idiots didn’t get paid.

Once I started to dislike the main characters and the story I began to poke at all the holes in the writing, which aren’t really even worth the space here. Except I found it puzzling that it wasn’t till the 21% mark that Barker is described as a Scotsman; I would have thought that if that was as important as it suddenly seemed it would have come out earlier. I suppose I should be grateful that dialogue in a brogue is kept to a minimum. Oh, and the whole episode with Llewelyn and a cohort trying to close shutters while under fire from the sniper was silly from beginning to end; he as narrator comments that he made a tempting target against the light, and fails to realize that it might therefore be clever to put out said light. He encounters all sorts of difficulty with figuring out how to get the shutters secured, and I was almost brought to the point of yelling at the book for him to go fetch the damned butler who might have done it before, who might have a clue.

The killer besieging the house seems, according to Barker’s hypothesis, to have a checklist of victims, and is killing in order. Which means that he passes up opportunities to kill Llewelyn and others – despite the fact that it’s remarkably stupid not to reduce the number of defenders.

The survivors in the house turn against Barker, somehow losing faith in his abilities after several people die. So he picks up and moves – into the rooms formerly occupied by his now-deceased employer, the lord of the manor. He had some kind of reason for this, but the audacity of it, added to the questionable decision to have his girlfriend in the adjoining room, did not go down well with the other survivors. Or with me.

There’s more – there’s so much more – like:
“The Sharps is a long-distance rifle, known for its accuracy …” [several pages later] “… No, the Sharps is not that accurate” … [several pages later] … “he’s carrying what I might consider the deadliest weapon on the planet.”I’m confused. Or the author is.

The same thing happens with the food provided by the cook. It’s bland; it’s wonderful; it’s boring; it’s delicious.

I made many more notes and highlights on my Kindle, but there’s really no point in continuing to beat this dead horse. I managed to finish the book, but what started out with me interested and intrigued ended with me frustrated and relieved to be done.

Also, “Hell Bay”? It’s a cool name – but it has very little to do with the plot.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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