“It’s not every day that a cop gets to travel on the same train as the murderer.” The opening line sets the scene for John Reid’s mystery novel, The Health Farm Murders. Thirteen people have booked in for a week’s vacation in the idyllic surroundings of Sister Susan’s Happy Valley Health Farm which is situated in the vicinity of the Blue Mountains in Sydney. Forty Five years ‘young’ Merryll Manning is the cop from Miami who sets out for a much needed therapeutic holiday. On the train he meets other health seekers like him who are all ostensibly in pursuit of a health nirvana.
Sister’s Susan’s health farm turns out to be more of an austere monastery with strict vigilance and sparse vegetarian food. The thirteen vacationers themselves are a varied group. A retired sea captain regales anyone he encounters with his stories of exploits at sea while a chubby minister nicknamed, Pastor Tubby grabs bars of Hershey’s because the food is so inadequate at Sister Susan’s Health Farm. Merryll Manning encounters astrologer, E.J. Hopkins who analyses everything and everybody, the retired cinema exhibitor, Russell Payne, retired textbook publisher David Gray and several others.
The thirteen holiday makers have barely settled into the Farm when one of the inmates is murdered. Merryll Manning is in his element now. The vacationer takes a back seat while the cop takes over to solve this intriguing murder mystery.
This is a great traditional whodunit with all the classic twists and turns of a mystery thriller. Merryll’s unconventional deductive abilities quickly outdistance the local police sergeant George Lambert’s limited policing skills. Merryll also has a quirky sense of humour and an uncannily accurate observation of the people and surroundings. While the story starts out with an impressive array of characters and the reader is found flipping pages to cross check who is who, John Reid quickly manages to grip the reader’s attention and keep him glued to the end. To add to the book’s value is the Australian setting which Reid has depicted with much panache and accuracy. For the Australian reader it brings to life this land’s magnificence and for the reader who has never set foot here, it is sure to rouse an interest and perhaps a visit at least to the gorgeous Blue Mountains.