World Crime Atlas: the retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country in The Times Atlas of the World.
Death has a Thousand Doors, by Patricia Grey.
The plot: Jane Burns is an Australian accountant who is a recovering alcoholic with a troubled past. She arrives in Andorra for the winding-up of her grandfather’s multi million dollar trust, only to discover her photo-journalist half-sister Pearl has disappeared. Her aloof historian father Charles helps her search for Pearl, uncovering a web of financial mis-dealings, kidnapping and smuggling.
Where and when: The plot covers much of the small Pyrenean country. It is set in the late 1990s.
The Detectives: Juan-Antonio Ribera-Batista is a village policeman whose “dark eyes were searchlights sweeping over a well-kept moustache”. Detective Victor Ignacio is the senior policeman in charge of the investigation.
Sense of Place: Andorra is portrayed as a country of valleys and mountains in some richly descriptive passages, such as: “The vivid green pastures etched to the precipitous mountains on either side of the road made her eyes ache.” The plot bears the fruits of a lot of historical and general research. We are told that in the 13th century, Andorra became the first demilitarised zone in the world; or that it is the oldest country in western Europe with unchanged borders. The characters occasionally can sound like tour guides: “We have a huge supply of pure underground water and bottle it for sale throughout Europe”; or “Andorrans have the highest longevity in the world according to a recent publication by the World Health Organisation.”
Worth reading? Yes, if you want to learn more about one of Europe’s least well-known countries, and enjoy a well-plotted mystery.