A security adviser to a hotel magnate unravels an intricate case on the Mediterranean archipelago of Malta in this first of a planned series of mysteries.
On April 22, 2014, about a week before Malta’s scheduled entry into the European Union, Scotswoman Elspeth Duff, who works for Baron Kennington’s global hotel empire, receives bad news. Scotland Yard informs her of a disturbing electronic transmission from a known terrorist Internet site in Saudi Arabia; it refers to activity involving the Kennington’s Valletta hotel in Malta. Duff immediately flies there to investigate any potential danger. The Kennington Valletta has architectural origins in the Baroque era of the 1600s, but it’s still a model of cutting-edge high-tech security and modern efficiency. Duff begins an exhaustive investigation of possible security breaches and terrorist involvement, teaming up with the hotel manager and representatives of the Anti-Terrorism Bureau at Scotland Yard; the Public Safety and Terrorism Sub-Directorate of Interpol; and the British High Commission. Predictably, the hotel’s Muslim guests and visitors fall under suspicion, and the prime suspect is a skittish young Brit of Arab descent with an interest in local mosques who meets another young Arab off-site. Crew is savvy enough to make effective use of this red herring, and she also skillfully toys with other stereotypes—including knighted diplomats, working mothers, heroic amputees and local cabbies. Each main character has a rich back story with enough skeletons in closets to provide grist for a number of future novels. The murder of a hotel guest, the notorious writer Conan FitzRoy, happens at the same time as the terrorist threats. Ideally, this should have accelerated the story’s desultory pace, but this novel isn’t a high-stakes drama (despite the author’s use of a ticking clock), nor is it a highly intricate puzzle. In the end, the smart, stylish Duff simply relays the solution, Sherlock Holmes–style, over five final pages.
An often compelling, if slow-paced, excursion through exotic locales featuring unusual, complex characters.