Written by AK Benedict — Ever wanted to live the life of Back To The Future’s Marty McFly, while lecturing at a top university at the same time? No, neither have I. But I’ll say one thing for Stephen Killigan, the hero of this book – he’s like no one else I’ve ever encountered in the pages of a novel.
Killigan is a new junior lecturer at Sepulchre College in Cambridge. His speciality is metaphysics and he’s a bit of a caricature really, a northerner with flat vowels, sticky-up hair and a penchant for collecting useless objects. And he seems destined to upset his peers from the off. One night, wandering drunkenly to the local kebab van, he encounters a dead body hidden in the bushes of a churchyard. A local beauty queen has been missing for some time, and Stephen recognises the corpse as her. The only trouble is, when the police arrive, there is no sign of her… and CCTV footage of the scene appears to show a solitary Stephen staggering around in the undergrowth.
Was he more inebriated than he thought, or did the body really exist? Well, until this point I was happy to go along with the rather hackneyed image of a northern academic out of his depth at a blue-chip uni. Then AKBenedict dropped her bombshell and added time travel into the mix. Yep, Stephen can travel back in time, so can the murderer he is seeking, and yes it really was a body that he spotted in the shrubbery.
The Time Traveller’s Wife is a favourite read of recent years, and I loved the aforementioned Back To The Future series of films, but I like my crime fiction played straight and the time travel element of this story really left me cold.
Debut novelist Benedict is a Cambridge graduate who studied creative writing at Sussex University and now composes film and television soundtracks well as performing as a musician. There is a certain lyricism to her prose, but at times I found the dialogue overblown and unrealistic.
The crime element of the book offers a series of bloody, gruesome killings with little in the way of suspense as we are introduced to the deadly Jackamore Grass in the first chapter. This magician-cum-scientist-cum-time-tourist is odious and unlovable – just the way a villain should be – but his battle with Stephen across the centuries was a weak part of the plot.
For me, the star character was Inspector Jane Horne, fighting crime and cancer at the same time, and her strong silent sidekick Pemberton. Sadly, even she succumbed to the time travel bug, a move totally alien to any self-respecting police officer, and out of character for a woman we came to know as the book progressed.
If you like your murder mysteries sprinkled with the fantastic and improvable, then The Beauty of Murder is probably the book for you. Me? I’m not convinced crime fiction lovers will be taken in by it.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars