THE CADAVER GAME
By: Kate Ellis
Piatkus: London, England
Kate Ellis is, by any definition, a formulaic writer.
She presents the investigations of Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson of
the Tradmouth CID in a contemporary murder, the archaeological
investigations of Wesley’s best friend, Neil Watson, into some mystery from
the distant past, and weaves the stories together in a seamless plotline in
which the archaeological excavations shed light on the present-day crime,
and in which the complex web of human emotions and actions are explored.
In this, her sixteenth Wesley Peterson mystery, the pattern continues, and
in the hands of a less-skilled writer of archaeological
mystery/thrillers—and there are many such less-skilled souls---this could
become repetitious and tedious.
But The Cadaver Game does not disappoint.
Wesley and his colleagues must deal with four closely-bunched murders—a
woman discovered in a suburban flat, whose identity and history are masked
by the decomposition of her body; a young man and his girlfriend, both from
upscale backgrounds, who have been naked and shot gunned to death and found
at the foot of a seaside bluff close on to the site of Neil Watson’s
excavations near Catton Hall ; and yet another young man of working class
background, who has been killed by the blast of a shotgun.
Meanwhile, Neil and his archaeological understudies
have taken a break from their excavation of a military fort from the
Napoleonic Era to take on a most unusual contract. Kevin Orford, a
pretentious and egoistic “performance artist” hires the archaeologists to
excavate the buried site of his objet d’art from sixteen years
earlier—a “Feast of Life” spectacle, or a glorified picnic, from Neil’s
viewpoint—on land owned by the last remaining members of the Catton family,
Alfred and his son, Richard, who dwell in the decaying “old pile” known as
Catton Hall. The ancient Alfred keeps to himself for the most part, working
on his history of Catton Hall’s role in the history of the Devon
countryside—particularly the darker deeds of his forebears who reveled, it
was rumored, in the hunting down of human quarry turned loose naked in the
woodland surrounding Catton Hall—much like the two youngsters recently found
dead very nearby!
Kate Ellis describes the investigative work and
forensic research of the police as they puzzle through the identification of
the slain woman and the mystery of the murdered youngsters with the same
deftness that she employs in describing the archaeological investigations of
Neil and his crew—which seem to reach center stage when they discover a
skeleton in a trash bag buried with Kevin Orford’s magnum opus of
performance art, the now inappropriately titled, “Feast of Life.”
Ellis builds case upon case of circumstantial evidence
that leads the unwary reader to numerous “Aha” moments when he or she
believes, “Now I know whodunit,” but it is my bet that most readers will be
caught by surprise when the identity of the killer or killers is finally
revealed. Beware, there are red herrings strewn everywhere!
Three trowels for the sixteenth Wesley Peterson (and
Neil Watson) mystery—and may there be many more in the future!
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