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Four Trowels

THE BLOOD PIT

By: Kate Ellis
Piatkus Books:  London
2008 (pb)

I have greatly enjoyed the Wesley Peterson Murder Mystery series since discovering it several years ago while vacationing in Great Britain.  It has, however, been a constant source of dismay that this fine series is still published only in the UK and is therefore a bit expensive for readers in the United States.  But this is one of those rare cases in which the relatively high cost is worth it. 

This is the twelfth novel in the series, and simply put, Kate Ellis gets better and better with each succeeding entry.  She has created a believable and sympathetic set of continuing characters, prominently featuring detective Wesley Peterson and his colleagues of the Tradmouth police unit and Wesley’s best friend from college days, archaeologist Neil Watson.  The recurring plot motif weaves contemporary crimes which Wesley Peterson is investigating with historical events related to Neil Watson’s archaeological investigations.  This could quite quickly become cliché in the hands of a writer less skilful and less adept than Kate Ellis.  But she has thus far never disappointed this reader. 

In this most gripping of Ellis’s Wesley Peterson mysteries, the Tradmouth police are called in to investigate the heinous murder of Charles Marrick, a most unsympathetic victim, who has literally had all the blood drained from his body—in all probability while he was yet alive!  The murder investigation soon suggests that Marrick was a completely amoral scoundrel, and while the method of the killing was breathtakingly hideous, there would be no shortage of suspects who had good reason to wish his demise. 

Little headway has been made in solving the Marrick murder when a second blood-drained body is discovered—this time that of a quiet, well-loved rural veterinarian.  When yet a third victim is identified in another city—this killing taking place prior to the Marrick murder, but initially thought to have been a suicide, Wesley Peterson and his colleagues must consider the possibility of the existence of a vampire-like serial killer.  The starkly different characters of the murder victims and the apparent lack of any connection among the three of them make the serial killer hypothesis very logical. 

At the same time that these atrocities are taking place, Neil Watson is conducting a public field school near Tradmouth.  The field school, or “training excavation” as it is called in the UK, is investigating medieval ruins on land once held by a Cistercian abbey.  The painstakingly precise excavations directed by Neil—much to the chagrin of some of the more romantically-inclined members of the crew—uncover a pit that seems to have been used for the disposal of human blood back in monastic days.  To his great discomfort, Neil begins to receive unsolicited letters from a mysterious correspondent who hints at the existence of great evil taking place at the site in medieval days—great evil tied to the letting of blood!  Neil makes Wesley aware of the curiously malignant letters he has been receiving and the question of a possible tie-in between the bloody murders under police investigation and the blood-fixated correspondence becomes a consideration. 

Then yet another body is discovered near Tradmouth—this one skeltonized and possibly several decades old.  Is this victim tied to the contemporary murders?  Has the serial killer been at work for years?  Is he taunting the authorities or seeking to be found out with his increasingly disturbed letters to Neil concerning a malignant evil at the abbey that goes back centuries? 

Kate Ellis is a masterful storyteller as she describes the skills that Wesley Peterson brings to the manhunt, weaving the stories of contemporary murder and medieval corruption and macabre practices together and bringing them to a most surprising and unexpected denouement.  This is a murder mystery with a touch of archaeology at its absolute best-- four trowels for The Blood Pit!

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*MVAC Educational Programs are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
*This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.