The Corpse with the Opal Fingers is the 13th book in the Cait Morgan series by Cathy Ace. This series features a globe-trotting duo, Welsh-Canadian professor of criminal psychology, Cait Morgan and her husband, Bud Anderson who is a retired cop. These books are traditional whodunnits written in a style similar to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot books but with a contemporary sensibility.
This time around, Cait and Bud have travelled to Australia to visit Cait’s sister and brother-in-law, Siân and Todd. Todd has been attending an annual mining conference in Sydney, and the others have joined him there. The conference is winding down and the foursome plan to move onto Katoomba, a town in the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales. Cathy Ace excels at providing vivid descriptions of these different locations. The inclusion of local colour helps ground the book in realism and you’ll be able to clearly visualise the settings, even if you have never set foot in Australia.
While on a sunset dinner cruise past the Sydney Opera House, they encounter a group of men from the conference. Nicknamed ‘the mob’, these men are fond of beer and have a competitive streak when it comes to storytelling. Lennie, a member of the mob, shares a story about finding a murder weapon when he was a child. At the time he didn’t understand the importance of his discovery but 20 years later the gun that he found was used to convict a man for murder. The victim was young woman known as Lowanna, who had an unusual ability to identify on a map the best places to mine for opals.
Lennie’s tale triggers one-upmanship between the men. Shorty informs the group that he witnessed a stabbing in a bar fight. He had to go to court to testify about what he saw. A third man, known as Ditch, announces that he saw someone get away with murder. Just when things are getting interesting, the storytelling comes to an end as a server trips while carrying a tray loaded with bottles and glasses. Although the last story was not shared, Cait’s curiosity kicks in. While chatting with Lennie the following day, she is surprised to learn that the man who murdered Lowanna has a link to her own family.
When the two couples move on to Katoomba, they discover that members of the mob are also visiting the town. The mob’s focus appears to be on drinking and causing chaos rather than typical tourist activities. Their partying comes to an end when some members of the mob end up dying in mysterious circumstances that could be linked to the death of Lowanna. At this point, Cait and Bud go into investigation mode.
The parallels between Cait and Poirot are evident when Cait is into an investigation. Both characters are very bright and have an understanding of human nature and the criminal mind. In addition to her expertise as a criminal psychologist, Cait has an enviable and useful skill. She has an eidetic memory which means that her short term memory can hold large amounts of information.
Like a Poirot whodunnit, Ace will have you considering different people guilty at different times of the investigation. When the moment comes to reveal the truth, she follows the Golden Age blueprint for murder mysteries by gathering all the potential guilty characters in one room to present the information that she has gathered. Yes, it’s derivative, but it works. Cait is supported in the big reveal of the murderer by her husband, Bud.
The trusting partnership between Cait and Bud is one of the appeals of The Corpse with the Opal Fingers, along with the multi-layered characters and an understanding of relationship dynamics. This is very evident in the interchanges between Cait and her sibling, Siân. It is that realistic blend of prickliness and fierce loyalty. Cathy Ace has a good understanding of human nature and this is evident in her writing. The Corpse with the Opal Fingers is an entertaining Agatha Christie-style whodunnit and a great way to do some armchair travelling.
If you are interested in learning more about Cathy Ace and her other books, you can read these previous reviews on Crime Fiction Lover.
Four Tails Publishing
CFL Rating: 4 Stars
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