Derek Farrell – Death Of A Devil
Published by Fahrenheit Press, paperback £8.95. I bought this book new, direct from the publisher.
I first met Derek a few years ago in Harrogate, in the tent on the Old Swan Hotel lawn – where so many crime fiction friendships begin – and cemented it fully at 3am on a Friday morning at Newcastle Noir a couple of years ago 😄 So, he’s definitely a friend, but his books make it onto the blog on their own merit – and merit they have plenty of.
Death Of A Devil is the third in the series (there’s four so far, with a fifth promised later this year, plus novella Death Of A Sinner). The books are filled with pain, humour and emotion as Danny Bird navigates the world and creates a new life for himself as a bar manager after everything crashed down around his ears in series opener Death Of A Diva, while doing a little amateur sleuthing on the side. Farrell has described them as “contemporary cosy” (or “Nu Cosy”), and this is the perfect label: while there is a fist in the face (and a dead body) in each one, there is also a big hug too.
Death Of A Devil opens in The Marquess of Queensbury pub, known as The Marq, on Halloween, as Danny, best pal Lady Caroline Holloway – aka Caz – and his staff encourage the costumed patrons to enjoy the night and spend lots of money at the bar. Meanwhile, Danny is also hosting the local council health officer, Mr Tavistock, and friends on a ghost hunt in The Marq’s other spaces. Horace the medium (though really he’s more of a large…) may be an almighty fraud, but he still leads Danny, Caz and the ghost hunters to discover a body in the cellar, previously bricked up in an alcove and now revealed after a series of unfortunate events led the brickwork to crack open, the final straw being tonight’s enthusiastic dancers in the bar above.
The police are called, but pub owner Chopper Falzone, a local gangster and not a man Danny wants to get on the wrong side of, is also keen to find out who disposed of the body, so Danny is “persuaded” to investigate. There’s also the matter of some stolen diamonds which have been missing since the time the body was being hidden in the cellar, which several people would like to get their hands on…
Meanwhile, Caz is strongarmed by her hated sister-in-law into getting her brother out of some trouble connected to a business deal. She’s all set to go it alone until Danny says simply: “I have to help. It’s what friends do.” That sentence encompasses so much about Caz and Danny’s relationship, and about what makes these books so fabulous to read.
There’s a chase around various parts of London as Danny and Caz try to find the murderer and the diamonds and a way to get rid of a blackmailer, while dealing with well-intentioned displays of loyalty that tie the police in knots, until we get to an Agatha Christie-eque final sequence that brings everyone involved together so Danny can lay out the who and why and the how (including a delightful nod to the courtroom denouement of Legally Blonde) and all the strands are brought together in a satisfying fashion. And then there is a final righteous come-uppance, for Danny and Caz have earned a moment of glee – and this is, after all, a novel from the cosier side of crime fiction, where it would be rude not to tie things up with a bow.
The plot is just the right side of preposterous, with a whiff of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels-style gangster chic but with much more genuine emotion. And humour is never far away even in the trickiest moments, whether in Danny’s one-liners, Caz’s arch comments or the description of the minor characters. And then there’s Caz’s handbag, which is always cause for hilarity for what she produces from it, in a delightfully twisted nod to Mary Poppins’ endlessly capacious carpet bag – champagne, flutes, a selection of pates and a baguette in Chapter Two is only the beginning.
But mostly what you should read the Danny Bird series for is the heart and love that Farrell pours out onto every page. No-one loves their characters more, and no-one is so open to sharing that emotion with the readers as they fall under the spell of the family Danny is building for himself in his friends at The Marq.
It might not be Valentine’s Day, but pick up Death Of A Devil and you’ll be enveloped in a book that is determined to show you a (entirely wholesome) good time and give you the world’s biggest hug afterwards.
Derek wrote an exclusive guest post for TGWATCB last summer about writing life in lockdown, and you can see his Lyme Crime panel with Rachel Ward about contemporary cosy books on the festival’s YouTube channel. You can also catch him reading at Virtual Noir At The Bar (including as part of Lyme Crime, episode 13.5) at the VNatB archives. He is also chairing a panel entitled The Unusual Suspects at Hull Noir next month – pop over to the website for details and to book (it’s free! but donations to support the festival are welcome if you can spare a few quid).