Stranger at Sunset

Strangers At SunsetWritten by Eden Baylee — Psychiatrist Dr Kate Hampton takes a vacation in Jamaica, staying at the luxury resort Sunset Villa. It’s gated off against the wilder criminal elements of the Caribbean island, but all is not well. The owners of Sunset Villa, Nolan and Anna Pearson, have two problems. One – which is solvable – is that the resort has been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. Bricks and mortar can be replaced, but reputations are not so easily rebuilt. An influential travel called Matthew Kane has penned a scathing review of Sunset Villa, and his words have caused a catastrophic downturn in bookings. Nolan and Anna are struggling to pay their employees, and their bankers are scrabbling at the door.

Matthew Kane has been persuaded to return to the resort, in an attempt to prompt a more positive review. He is, however, one of life’s difficult customers. He is allergic to particular scents, to certain foods, and to a variety of fabrics. The other Sunset guests take an instant dislike to the reviewer, which puts the owners between a rock and a hard place – do they placate Mr Kane, or the paying guests? Kate Hampton is drawn into the destructive relationship between two of the guests, Jessica and Rob, who are an unsophisticated couple from the southern states. Jessica won their holiday on a TV quiz show, but they are both out of their depth socially, and out of love with each other.

The novel’s skeleton is, in one sense, a familiar one. We have a group of people more or less confined to one location. We know that both victim and killer are in full sight. We are walked through the method, and there is little attempt to disguise the identity of the killer. Thus it becomes less of a who-dunnit and more of a why-dunnit. There are a couple of red herrings cast in our direction, but experienced readers will probably not take the bait.

My advice to readers is that this is a book which definitely repays those who stick with it. The first half reads rather like a travel brochure at times, with the exotic food, the smell of sun-tan lotion, and just a hint of ‘what happens on vacation stays on vacation’. The pace is leisurely, and although Matthew Kane is disagreeable enough to make any reader want to help in his demise, I was actually relieved when we finally had some skullduggery. When it finally happens we are talked through one of the most inventive murders I have ever come across in years of reading crime fiction. Without revealing the details, it will send a particularly icy chill up the spines of male readers. Beneath the glitz, the lantern-jawed medallion-men and the whiff of Chanel that survives the brutal air conditioning, a darker world is revealed. It is a world of childhood trauma, insecurity, and obsessive behaviour.

Eden Baylee has written a thoroughly entertaining crime novel, and has not been afraid to call on her previous experience of writing travel books – and erotica. This – her first crime fiction novel – is a little too smooth and slick, and could use a little more texture. However, she is clearly a talented writer, and I look forward to reading whatever comes next. The trailer at the end of the book indicates that we have not read the last of Dr Kate Hampton.

lower case publishing
Print/Kindle/iTunes
£3.10

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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