The Mechanical Devil by Kate Ellis

An isolated field in Devon has been the finding place of many things throughout the years. The remains of a sixteenth century manor house. Twenty years ago, the body of a young archaeologist, victim of an accidental fall. A lead coffin containing a mysterious automated doll with a mysterious past. And now, two people, shot to death, execution-style. Two people who, it seems, have nothing in common.

DI Wesley Peterson and his team have their hands full already, trying to track down the missing daughter of a local Member of Parliament, when the two bodies are discovered. Concerned that the killer might strike again, Wesley works round the clock on the case, little realising that there is something else that should be taking priority. Something that is about to strike very close to home…

Kate Ellis was the first author that I met after starting the blog, at a book signing in Formby promoting her fifteenth Wesley Peterson mystery, The Jackal Man. To be honest, I’d not come across her work before then, but since then, I’ve caught up with everything that had gone before and everything since. But I’m still a little baffled by how rarely her work shows on the blogs I follow – the non-Golden Age focused ones, that is. Because it always has been, and still is, a damn good example of the modern police procedural novel.

I was delighted last year when Kate was nominated for the CWA Dagger In The Library, not least because I got the chance to bump into her again at the Bodies conference where the award was given out. Clearly, she has a large fan base, but fellow bloggers, do give her work a go – because it’s damn good. And on top of that, she was nice enough to send me a review copy…

Not only do you get a complex plot, enriched by a subplot dealing with a crime from the past, you get a central cast of characters that you actually care about – Wesley, his family and friends, his colleagues. While there is no need to read the books in order, as a regular reader, I was delighted by at least two little developments, and shocked when… well, that bit is a spoiler. And this may seem a small thing but Kate does a really good job with a large cast of characters involved in the crime, I never had to remind myself who was who. I’ve read plenty of books with a much small cast, still needing to flick back to see who was who, but here, everyone was clear and memorable.

As for the mystery – well, despite one or two twists playing out exactly as a long-term mystery reader might expect, there is plenty going on here to keep the reader looking the wrong way. It’s often a mark of the quality of a crime writer as to how entertaining the middle third of a mystery novel is. Sometimes it just seems to be marking time, sometimes the writer will stuff in a few bonus murders – I think Paul Doherty is the record setter for this one – but Kate keeps the plot moving in unexpected directions, never letting the reader’s interest flag. OK, there is at least one more murder to deal with, but it is integral to what’s going on.

So, as I expected, as with the previous twenty-one Wesley Peterson books, the five Joe Plantagenate mysteries and A High Mortality Of Doves, this is a gripping, hugely entertaining read, rewarding for the long-term reader but more than accessible for the new reader. One of the finest murder mystery series out there and this entry into it is an absolute treat. This is Highly Recommended. Obviously.

The Mechanical Devil was released on 1st February from the Piatkus imprint of Little Brown. For more reviews of Kate’s work, click here.

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