Craven is a writer on top of his game, negotiating these two plots towards their more than satisfying conclusions with aplomb. But his outstanding characterisation remains the star of the show.
Holmes and Watson. Poirot and Hastings. Jessica Fletcher and Seth Hazlitt. Much of the best crime fiction of all time succeeds on the basis of a great double act – a pair of characters we grow to know and love so well they feel like our friends. Yes, we’re invested in solving the mysteries and finding the killers. But more than anything, we want to be a fly on the wall following the adventures and enjoying the latest interactions between these people.
MW Craven first introduced us to disgraced former soldier Detective Sergeant Washington Poe and the incomparable Tilly Bradshaw, a civilian analyst with a genius IQ and no social skills, in 2018’s The Puppet Show. Since then, we’ve enjoyed four more of their cases together and along this way, this duo has become a double act Conan Doyle or Christie could be proud of.
The Botanist is the fifth of the Poe and Bradshaw crime novels and it’s clear this is a series – and a writer – going from strength to strength. There are not one but two impossible murder cases for our beloved friends to solve here. One of which, a baffling poisoning, comes as part of the day job. But the other is very much personal when brilliant pathologist Estelle Doyle, with whom they’ve worked several times, becomes the only suspect in the murder of her father.
Both these cases are variations on a classic locked room mystery and they both contain plenty of gruesome elements. But the story never feels too bleak – there’s laugh out loud humour in the interactions between Poe and Bradshaw, and with the characters they meet along the way who have no idea what to make of them, the ultimate odd couple.
Craven is a writer on top of his game, negotiating these two plots towards their more than satisfying conclusions with aplomb. But his outstanding characterisation remains the star of the show. If you like your crime fiction grim but with a hefty helping of humour, repartee and genuine heartwarming friendship, this is the series for you.