Review: Death Leaves the Station, Alexander Thorpe

What do the armchair mystery genre and rural 1920s Western Australia have in common? Nothing, at least previously. That’s why this new fiction release, which takes the first and transposes it into the second, is such a genius idea from debut Perth author Alexander Thorpe – who loved this detective story style so much he decided, as he said at the launch, to steal it.

It’s a tall order to take the arch, mannered style we normally associate with English detectives and country houses, and use it to depict a grumpy Australian policeman investigating a murder in a Mid West dustbowl in the 1920s, but Thorpe has pulled it off. Officer Parkes’ “p” surname and his enormous moustache, a character within its own right are elements, might be a sly nod to Poirot. The plot is vintage to the genre, complete with “slowly cooling” corpse, mistaken identities, and conclusion in which all parties gather in a library for the solution to be revealed. The tone achieves the right combination of droll comedy, and compassion for the characters’ human frailties.

Speaking of which, I’m not certain I entirely grasped the full significance of one of these main characters being a nameless priest with a secret shame, but that could just be how sleep deprived the three-month-old has made me. I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of anyone else who reads this!

Altogether an enjoyable read from a promising young local author with a singular voice. Would make a thoughtful gift for anyone who loves Agatha Christie stories. Looking forward to the next novel from Thorpe.

Death Leaves the Station is published by Fremantle Press and is in bookstores now.