Author: Helen Smith
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Published: January 28th 2014
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Source: ARC via Tour Host Itching for Books
When famed psychic Perspicacious Peg predicts a murder will occur at England’s Belief and Beyond conference, her science-minded colleagues recruit twenty-six-year-old budding sleuth Emily Castles to attend the event as a “future crimes investigator.” The suspected victim: celebrated magician Edmund Zenon, who plans to perform a daring stunt at the conference—and is offering fifty thousand pounds to any attendee who can prove that the paranormal exists.
In the seaside town of Torquay, Emily meets a colorful cast of characters: dramatic fortune-teller Madame Nova; kindly Bobby Blue Suit and his three psychic dachshunds; Sarah and Tim Taylor, devastated parents mourning their late son; and religious cult members Hilary, Trina, and the Colonel. Tensions rise as believers in science, the supernatural, and the spiritual clash with one another. But once a body count begins, Emily must excuse herself from the séances and positivity circles, and use old-fashioned detective work to find the killer.
Helen Smith is a member of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, the Crime Writers Association and English PEN. She traveled the world when her daughter was small, doing all sorts of strange jobs to support them both--from cleaning motels to working as a magician's assistant--before returning to live in London where she wrote her first novel. Her work has been reviewed in The Times, the Guardian, The Independent, Time Out and the Times Literary Supplement. Her books have reached number one in the bestseller lists in the Kindle store on both sides of the Atlantic.
Beyond Belief is a fun story that felt more like a murder mystery party than just an ordinary thriller. From the very beginning, we're thrust into the heart of the mystery and find ourselves immersed in the lives of several oddball characters all drawn together to the Beyond and Belief conference at a seaside resort by the impending fate of magician Edmund Zenon.
As far as main characters go, Emily isn't the most interesting, and it was a bit bizarre that her main qualification for the job was her "connection" to her dead dog, but the rest of the side characters surely made up for it. Composed of a mismatched group of philosophers, magicians, psychics, and religious fanatics, each character has their own eccentricities and beliefs that made their interactions enjoyable to read about. I particularly liked Bobby Blue Suit, an endearing psychic, and his three dogs with a few special tricks you don't see in other dogs. I'm not sure yet if there will be more books in the Emily Castles Mystery series, but if there are, it would be really nice to see if Bobby Blue Suit were to make another appearance in the future.
The beginning was a bit heavy on exposition, but it's forgivable considering most of it was used to build up the backgrounds of many of the key players. The story really starts to pick up halfway through the book when the body count starts to rise, and by that point, I was fully engrossed in the mystery. Who is this murderer? Why are they killing certain people? Why are they so focused on Edmund Zenon? And what is the password? I found it difficult to put the book down in anticipation to the answers to all my questions. Helen Smith actually managed to answer them all with an ending I didn't expect. I wish the climax of the story could've been more exciting instead of just Emily explaining everything, but I was satisfied with the answers.
As I said before, the story reminds me of a murder mystery themed party. You have a group of random people thrown together for a short time (one weekend) at a relatively isolated place (Hotel Majestic in the small town of Torquay) who are united and forced to work together to solve a murder. As someone who has always wanted to participate in such a party, this style worked for me. I especially like the touch of humor Helen Smith added to her writing that kept this book from getting too dark, so if you're a casual reader of mystery thrillers who would prefer something lighter without the gore and violence, then this book is for you.
"Look," said the lad with the knitted hat to the conductor, "I'm sorry."
"Sorry, mate." In this kind of transaction, you had to have one person who was sorry and another who was prepared to forgive. You couldn't have two people who were sorry. If the conductor was sorry, too, then Emily knew there was no hope that this girl would be allowed to continue her journey without paying full fare. "You've got to have the correct ticket to travel on the train. This is the only nonstop service to Torquay this morning and you can't use the cheap tickets on it. Come on now. Let's have a look at yours."
The boyfriend's ticket was fine. The conductor clipped it and turned back to deal with the girl.
"I'm sorry," she said. Well that was no good! You couldn't have three people who were sorry, even if none of them sounded sorry at all. "I don't have forty pounds."
"I'm sorry!" Dr. Muriel interrupted. Now it was getting out of hand.
Helen Smith is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, The Crime Writers Association and English PEN. She travelled the world when her daughter was small, doing all sorts of strange jobs to support them both – from cleaning motels to working as a magician's assistant – before returning to live in London where she wrote her first novel, which was published by Gollancz (part of the Hachette Group). She writes novels, children's books, poetry, plays and screenplays, and was the recipient of an Arts Council of England Award. She likes dancing but she doesn't like driving. She likes knitting. Helen Smith's books have reached number one on Amazon's bestseller lists in the US, UK, Canada and Germany. Her first book, Alison Wonderland, was one of the top five bestselling books from Amazon Publishing when it was launched in the US in 2011. In July 2013, following the publication of Invitation to Die, Helen Smith reached the top spot as "America's most popular mystery author" on Amazon.