The Final Round by Bernard O’Keeffe

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The Final Round by Bernard O'Keeffe front cover

What is it with fictional detectives and music? Inspector Morse, of course, was a huge opera fan, DCI Banks loves a bit of jazz with classical thrown in and it’s been the same score since Sherlock Holmes picked up his violin. Now we have a country music-loving detective – DI Jim Garibaldi – and a lot of jokes about biscuits.

We meet this self-educated officer, who enjoys wrong-footing or baffling witnesses and colleagues by throwing in a few highbrow quotations, on his home turf in Barnes ‘village’, south London. No one expects a well-read copper, especially a group of former friends who graduated from elite Balfour College in Oxford 25 years or so earlier.

This crew of entitled types is faced with Garibaldi’s questions after one of their cohort is found murdered in a nature reserve by the Thames, the morning after Boat Race Day. Nick Bellamy has been poisoned, stabbed, his tongue cut out and his college scarf is stuffed in his mouth. Someone obviously hated him. A lot.

Just a few days earlier at a charity quiz, the final round is hijacked and each of the six is singled out for a crime or secret – the mystery quizmaster asking which statement is true. Is novelist Greg Matthews a plagiarist? Did his TV newsreader wife Melissa, the quiz host have a teenage love child? Did head teacher Fay Wetherby accept a bribe? Was hack Chris Turner blackmailed over a sex tape? Did Nick Bellamy kill a man? Or did teacher Julia Forrest shoplift?

The questions and Bellamy’s murder send the five ghastly suspects into a frenzy of panic and backbiting, whilst they throw their privilege around themselves like a cloak. Are any of them guilty of the quiz accusations, or the murder?

Garibaldi is on the case. Chauffeured by DS Milly Gardner, he interviews each suspect in turn, asking the exact same questions about their relationships with Bellamy, whereabouts when the murder was committed, what the tongue removal might mean and which allegation on the final round of the quiz did they think was true? Each of the accusations is plausible. It’s all pretty time consuming and reported in great detail, although the answers are pretty much the same.

The big question is why Bellamy was murdered? Was his tongue cut out because he was behind the rogue quiz round and said too much? Was the college scarf a clue pointing to something that happened decades earlier in Oxford? Could he have killed a man? His colourful life, multiple sexual conquests and fiery nature mean the notion can’t be dismissed.

The group dynamic amongst the old friends is toxic. Next up the suspects are ringing or meeting each other to find leverage and clues about old friends, who only meet up once a year at the quiz. The minutiae of their lives are revealed, their jealousies and insecurities. There’s a common theme of problem teenage offspring and family lives that extends to Garibaldi’s situation too. 

His son Alfie attends Wetherby’s private school – paid for by Garibaldi’s ex wife’s nauseating, rich partner – and there’s friction between Garibaldi and the lad when Alfie decides to chuck in his application to Balfour College at Oxford and seems hell-bent on sabotaging his future. 

Garibaldi is an interesting character I’d like to read more about. He doesn’t drive and has an irrational hatred of having to travel to North London, for any reason. He can’t believe his luck or keep his mind fully on the case as he’s just started dating new flame Rachel, who loves country music as much as he does. It’s a shame that DS Gardner is a bit one-dimensional – relegated to driving duties, she only gets to question one suspect during the case.

There are a few bloopers. For example, the police would not instantly reveal to the media extensive details of the murder, including speculation over the tongue butchery, as reported in the Evening Standard.

As a former English teacher in Barnes, with inside intel on schools and the neighbourhood, O’Keeffe is on firmer ground. He has an engaging, confident and accomplished writing style that keeps up the momentum. I’m pleased to write that there is more to come, as The Final Round is not final at all – it’s the first in the Garibaldi trilogy and is a crime novel debut.

Also see Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen.

Muswell Press

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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