Published: 20 August 2020
Author: Tess Little
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton
Length: 295 pages
Reading dates: 20-23 August 2020
And you are absolutely certain, Ms Bryant Bell, that there were no other guests that night, besides the eight present with the body when police arrived at the scene?
Actually, no, officer – there was a ninth guest. The alien among us:
Three hearts and, some say, nine brains;
Suckers, two by two, which can cling to the roughest edges;
Pigment cells, chromatophores, to camouflage instantly;
Toxic ink to confuse predators;
Venom to still the limbs of struggling prey.
An intelligence we have barely begin to comprehend.
Elspeth arrives at her ex-husband Richard’s mansion in LA for a party to celebrate his 50th birthday, expecting it to be a huge starry affair for the famous film director. Instead there are just 7 other guests, and Persephone, Richard’s pet octopus who lives in a tank which dominates the house.
The next morning after a booze and drug fuelled night for all the guests, Richard is found dead, covered in vomit and is initially thought to have died of a drug overdose. But when an investigation reveals severe bruising to the throat it soon becomes a murder investigation.
All of the guests are under suspicion: the old school friend, the studio producer, the actress, the actor, the new boyfriend, the cinematographer, the manager and Elspeth herself. All have reason to dislike Richard – any one of them could want him dead.
In the weeks following the party, stories of Richards’s past surface, colliding with memories of their marriage and Elspeth begins to question why he invited the 8 of them specifically and which one of them killed him.
I really enjoyed this murder mystery set in the glamorous movie world. I also really like the way it played with timelines – there were no chapters at all throughout the whole book (but plenty of break points). The first third of the book flits between the party and the aftermath as Richard is found dead. The second part flits between Richard’s extravagant memorial service and how Elspeth arrived in LA as a teenager and how she met Richard. The third part deals with the murder trial alongside learning how Richard treated Elspeth when they were married. Some reviews I’ve read, really didn’t get on with the way the story jumped around without warning but I had no problem with this and actually thought it was really clever.
A thoroughly unlikable cast of characters which means everyone is under suspicion, including in Elspeth’s eyes Persephone the octopus, who we find out quite early in the book is able to escape from her tank through a filter! I enjoyed learning more about octopuses as Elspeth trawls the internet as her suspicions grow.
A really intelligent mystery novel which leans towards a literary style, this was an impressive debut which I very much enjoyed and which kept me guessing throughout.
Thank you to Steven Cooper for inviting me on the blog tour and for my copy of the book. Please check out the other blogger reviews below:
About the author
Tess Little is a writer, historian, and Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford.
She was born in Norwich in 1992 and studied history at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. She is currently working towards her doctorate, on transnational connections in 1970s feminist activism, having spent the last few years interviewing activists and visiting archives across the UK, France, and the US.
Her short stories and non-fiction have appeared in Words And Women: Two, The Mays Anthology, The Belleville Park Pages, The White Review and on posters outside a London tube station.
Her first novel, The Octopus, was published by Hodder & Stoughton in August 2020.