Kate Ellis is the writer of nineteen mystery novels, fifteen of which feature Wesley Peterson, a police detective based in Devon with an interest in archaeology. As she was signing her latest novel, The Jackal Man, at Pritchard’s in Formby, my local bookshop, I thought a trip to the library was called for in order to swot up.
An Unhallowed Grave, the third in the series, sees DS Peterson investigating the hanging of a local woman without a past in Stokeworthy Churchyard. Strangely, his archaeologist friend Neil Watson has just dug up a skeleton that seems to be that of a woman who was executed by hanging from the same tree five hundred years previously. Wesley needs to sort out the present problem while Neil investigates the past one while trying to find out if it just coincidence that the two crimes occurred at the same place, or is there a darker link?
Like, for example, the Alan Banks novels by Peter Robinson, there is a feeling here that the characters – Wesley, his wife and child, his friends and his colleagues – have story arcs that continue throughout the series and that something might be lost by not reading the books in order. On the other hand, unlike some series novels, you have a bunch of decent people to be interested in, rather than a bunch of manic depressives. OK, that probably doesn’t include one of his colleagues who dabbles in an ill-advised meeting with a schoolgirl, but I would expect he may get his come-uppance later in the series. Similarly it’s seems at first slightly odd that this is “A Wesley Peterson Novel” as he’s only a Detective Sergeant here and his boss seems perfectly competent, but it’s clear from glancing at the blurbs of some of the later books that he’s got a promotion and we’re following his life and career from murder to murder.
So what makes this different from other police procedurals? It’s the archaeology that’s the hook (although having a happily married main character is pretty rare as well) and there’s some interesting stuff about a local religious carving that is rediscovered. The modern mystery is the main thrust of the plot – the past one is told mostly through forewords to each chapter and there’s no real solving – and, once the secret of the victim is discovered and the investigation gets a little focus, there’s some lovely misdirection until the murderer is revealed. There’s not much in the way of clues to be had – as everything revolves around a past event, it’s a case of “Spot the Liar” – but the solution is satisfyingly done and surprising.
So what do we have here? A well-written mystery with an engaging regular cast of central characters. I bought The Jackal Man, the latest book, at the signing, based on the strength of this book, and it’s leapfrogged a number of other books on my “To Read” list. Definitely worth a look.
WHERE CAN I GET IT?
Well, why not check out your local bookshop – it’s in print, unlike much of what I review!