A snowstorm. A country house. Old friends reunited. It’s going to be murder…
Torben Helle – art historian, Danish expat and owner of several excellent Scandinavian jumpers – has been dragged to a remote snowbound Northumbrian mansion for a ten-year reunion with old university friends. Things start to go sideways when their host, a reclusive and irritating tech entrepreneur, makes some shocking revelations at the dinner table. And when these are followed by an apparent suicide, the group faces a test of their wits… and their trust. Snowed in and cut off, surrounded by enigmatic housekeepers and off-duty police inspectors, not to mention a peculiar last will and testament, suspicion and sarcasm quickly turn to panic. As the temperature drops and the tension mounts, Torben decides to draw upon all the tricks of Golden Age detectives past in order to solve the how much money would it take to turn one of his old friends into a murderer? But he’d better be quick, or someone else might end up dead…
This witty murder mystery puts a modern spin on the classic country house whodunnit. A must-read for fans of Agatha Christie, Richard Osman and Janice Hallett.
Hi and welcome to my review of Helle and Death!
An isolated old country house in the middle of a snowstorm. As far as murder mystery settings go, this one’s a clear winner, and one I couldn’t walk away from. And I’m happy I couldn’t resist, I had a great time with Torben Helle and his friends!
Thanks to its setting, Helle and Death oozes atmosphere, and if there’s anything better than a murder mystery, surely it’s one that brims with an atmospheric moodiness. While set in the present, there’s an unmistakable historical fiction vibe to it. To the point that every time a modern-day element was mentioned, a phone, an app, Converse sneakers, I needed a moment to realign.
I would definitely call Helle and Death a character-driven slow-burner. For most of the story, the focus is more on the characters, their history together, their relationships, than on current actions. I’m not always terribly fond of that type of book, but I felt Helle and Death gets away with it easily thanks to the abovementioned atmosphere, as well as its tongue-in-cheek wittiness. It’s simultaneously meta and making fun of the meta aspect.
The mystery was also highly intriguing. Was one of the friends the culprit? Was there a third party involved? I studiously observed every little nugget of information provided about the characters, wondering what might be of importance, what innocuous detail or what trait subtly hinted at might be the thing to blow the whole case wide open. Dear reader, I didn’t quite find it. But I did have fun trying and there’s a lot to say for that.
The denouement, in the typical classic mystery style, was nothing short of a rollercoaster. As it turns out, I had been thinking along the right lines and I’m really happy I had this person pegged even if my (admittedly extremely outlandish and highly improbable) working theory did not pan out entirely. While reading, I was thinking Helle and Death was a solid four-star murder mystery, but that final 20% or so made me realise four stars weren’t enough for this clever little mystery.
I had a fantastic time with Helle and Death. It definitely offers a twist on the mystery genre and I would happily recommend it to any and all murder mystery fans.
Helle and Death is out in hardcover, digital and audio formats on 18 January 2024, with the paperback to follow in October.
Massive thanks to Viper and NetGalley for the eARC. All opinions are my own.