The Corpse with the Granite Heart by Cathy Ace

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The Corpse with the Granite Heart by Cathy Ace front cover

Cathy Ace’s The Corpse with the Granite Heart is the 11th mystery novel to feature globetrotting investigative duo Cait Morgan and Bud Anderson. Cait is a famed criminal psychologist, while Bud, her husband, is a well-respected now-retired detective. Their combined skills have allowed them to solve myriad baffling crimes in various exotic locales worldwide.

This time round, Cait and Bud have travelled to London from their home in Canada to visit with old friend John Silver. John has recently become engaged to a jewellery designer named Bella Quiller and, given the dire romantic misadventures he has previously experienced (as detailed in The Corpse with the Crystal Skull), is keen for his friends to meet her and approve the match. For the same reason, as well as the speed with which the engagement has come about, Cait and Bud are trepidatious about meeting Bella, a feeling that only intensifies when they learn that John has arranged for them to spend their first night in London at a dinner party hosted by Bella and her family.

It soon emerges that Bella Quiller was originally Bella Asimov, daughter of Oleg Asimov, a multimillionaire with interests in the construction industry and a passion for both Shakespeare and related philanthropic works. Oleg has recently died and, in addition to providing an opportunity for Cait and Bud to meet Bella, the dinner party that night is being held to mark what would have been his 80th birthday. So far, so awkward for Cait and Bud, who would much rather rest and overcome their jetlag than attend a memorial dinner for someone they didn’t know, particularly when they learn that Bella has actually called off the engagement that very day but John still expects them all to attend.

Unfortunately for Cait, things become even more awkward when they arrive at the Asimov family home. While Bella seems friendly and charming, her twin sister Sasha Tavistock – or Alex Asimov as she used to be known – turns out to be a former colleague/rival from Cait’s days working for a major London advertising and public relations agency. Even worse, Sasha’s husband, Piers Tavistock, is another former colleague, who once attempted to assault Cait. The rest of the guests aren’t that much better either, including Bella and Sasha’s louche half-brother Charles; Oleg’s most recent former wife, Felicity Sampson; Sir Simon Pendlebury, the man tasked with ensuring the smooth continuing operation of Oleg’s business interests; and Renata Douglas, Sasha’s personal assistant.

In true Shakespearean fashion, what starts out as an awkward family event characterised by lingering distrust and festering animosity turns into a tragedy when Sasha’s body is discovered in the snow outside before the first course has even been served. It appears that she has fallen from the roof of the house, but because the circumstances surrounding the incident are unclear, the local police let it be known that they would welcome assistance from Cait and Bud, whose investigative exploits clearly precede them and who seemingly have no choice but to accept that their holiday will be far less relaxing than they had anticipated.

Cathy Ace has written The Corpse with the Granite Heart from the first-person perspective of Cait, which works really well as a story-telling device due to how sympathetic and engaging Ace has made her lead character. While needing to be shrewd and insightful in order to solve the crimes that she regularly encounters in her professional and personal lives, Cait always maintains a strong sense of empathy and an even stronger sense of humour, which is particularly important in this most recent case. Both Sasha and Piers immediately try to wrongfoot her upon reacquaintance, but she manages to retain the moral high ground while still firmly putting them in their place. In doing so, she is supported as ever by Bud, who experiences his own issues when dealing with members of London’s monied class. Their relationship, which allows their complementary characteristics to shine, is one of the real strengths of the series.

The mystery behind Sasha’s death is soon revealed to be even more complicated than it initially appears, and Cait’s investigation is stymied by shadowy forces who wish to keep the truth buried. In attempting to discover what really happened, as well as the reasons behind it, Cait has to overcome class prejudices and take on significant corruption within the corridors of power, which renders the mechanism of this investigation somewhat different from her previous cases. Cait and Bud are clearly neither poor nor uneducated, but they still encounter snobbery and dismissive attitudes at nearly every turn, and not always because the other party has something pertinent to the crime to hide.

Both family and business concerns are at the heart of matters in The Corpse with the Granite Heart, which makes it no surprise that the threads of the mystery and the relationships they concern are tangled and disturbing, rather like the relationships in King Lear, Oleg Asimov’s favourite Shakespeare play, in fact.

If you like the sound of this latest case for Cait Morgan, be sure to check out the other books in the series, including The Corpse with the Iron Will.

Four Tails Publishing Ltd.

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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