I’ve never been keen on going on a cruise, although I have often wondered what going on one would be like. I have read a few crime novels set on board ships, such as Death on the Nile, and was therefore intrigued when I was sent a copy of Kathryn Fox’s latest novel Cold Grave, which is set on board a luxury cruise liner. The novel promises an in-depth look at life on board for crew and passengers on board one of these ships, and it fully delivers what it sets out to do.
Anya Crichton, like her creator, is a doctor specialising in forensic medicine, currently living and working in New York, whilst her ex-husband Martin and son Ben remain in Australia. In this novel the family are reunited, having been rewarded with a free cruise to Hawaii, as a thank you from Anya’s previous clients the Jersey Bombers. The relaxing holiday immediately turns into a murder investigation, when on the morning of their first day they discover a dead body in a locker next to the spa. Anya is asked to assist in the murder investigation, when the security officer discovered that she is a forensic doctor, with extensive experience of murder investigations.
The dead girl, Lilly Chan was a talented musician, who had the misfortune to become embroiled with a group of men self-styled “the beach shirt men”, who target women on their own, spiking their drinks, prior to sexually assaulting them. In a parallel plot, Carlos, a crew member, is kneecapped, in order to prevent him from revealing damaging information about the ship’s owners violating international environmental regulations, in order to save money.
I found the central characters of Anya and Martin likeable and engaging, although I became rather irritated with Anya conforming to the fictional stereotypes of Tempe Brennan and Kay Scarpetta, as a workaholic obsessive, unable to relax until she had solved the cases. I also found the other characters, such as the senior crew such as Fitz Harris the security officer and Karen the nurse to be plausible and individual.
The novel explores and highlights a number of issues, such as the high death rates and disappearance of passengers and crew on cruises, along with very high rates of women who are attacked on cruises, by both crew and other passengers. I was shocked to discover that there is no passenger screening. The novel also highlights the extent to which crew are exploited by the liner’s owners, and seek to avoid their legal obligations such as international regulations on the environment.
I enjoyed reading the novel, finding it engrossing and thought provoking, and made me think about issues I hadn’t previously given much thought to, or been aware of. I found the plot memorable as I am able to recall it two months after finishing the novel. This is the first book in the series I had read, although I discovered that this is the sixth book. There was a lot about Anya and her family’s history which I didn’t know, which may well have been explained in earlier novels. This is one of the problems inherent in having a series, as the writer has to balance the needs of regular readers, along with introducing the characters and their histories to new-comers to the series. I am pleased that I was given the book, as I hadn’t come across the series or writer before, and intend reading the other books in the series.