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 Four Trowels

THE FLESH TAILOR

By: Kate Ellis
Piatkus Books:  London
2010 (HC)

It is not unusual for even the most skilled writer to occasionally publish a work that even his/her most ardent fan must admit is not quite up to the high standards he/she has previously established.  One of my favorite mystery/thriller writers—Kate Ellis—seems to be immune to this literary fact of life.  Each of her Wesley Peterson murder mysteries simply improves on the previous entry—and The Flesh Tailor is no exception. 

On a chill and damp November evening, a Devon physician, James Dalcott, is gunned down as he answers the loud and insistent ring of his doorbell.  Police detective Wesley Peterson and his colleagues of the Tradmouth police unit are summoned to solve the slaying of this apparently well-liked and modest middle-aged physician.  While the dead man’s character seems to be for the most part unblemished, sound police procedure soon reveals a number of possible suspects, ranging from an estranged wife who stands to benefit quite handsomely from the good doctor’s untimely death, her semi-talented artist boyfriend by whom she is expecting a child, and a couple of former patients who blamed Dalcott for medical practices leading to devastating and unanticipated results.  It would seem that DCI Gerry Heffernan and his able crew of investigators led by Wesley Peterson must only determine which of the leading suspects had the most likely means and opportunity to carry out the crime and bring him or her to justice. 

But life is never quite that easy—especially in the world of Wesley Peterson.  His investigation into the victim’s background—always a key in Wesley’s mind to discovering the true identity of the perpetrator of the crime—finds that James Dalcott had in his latter days become all but obsessed with his own genealogy.  He had discovered that he had in fact been raised from infancy by his aunt and uncle after his father—a well-liked and modest middle-aged physician—had been executed for the brutal murder of his mother!  Wesley’s instincts tell him that there is a thread that connects that 1950s family tragedy with the execution of the unfortunate son. 

Meanwhile Wesley’s best friend from their college days as students of archaeology and County Archaeologist, Neil Watson is summoned to Tailor’s Court, a 16th Century manor house not too distant from Tradmouth.  The historic structure had recently been purchased by Tony and Jill Persimmon and when they had ordered some backyard landscaping done, human skeletal remains—remains that showed signs of cut marks on them-- began to be uncovered.  This immediately brought in Neil and his crew, as well as the Home Office pathologist to determine whether these were ancient burials or more recent bodies that would demand the attention of the Tradmouth police.   Neil’s investigations indicate that the burials are indeed several hundred years old, and despite the macabre signs of possibly butchery, will not need further police scrutiny—much to Wesley’s relief.  He and his team can once again concentrate on the James Dalcott murder. 

But their relief is short-lived when Neil’s further excavations reveal the remains of a young boy, buried in context with a toy automobile.  But these obviously more contemporary remains also show signs of cut marks and butchery!  Forensic research indicates that the death occurred in all probability some sixty to seventy years earlier—a time when, upon further research into the history of Tailor’s Court, a number of young children were billeted there as part of the war-time program to evacuate youngster’s from the horrors of the London blitz.  Neil’s research into the early history of Tailor’s Court reveals a macabre and chilling past, with evidence of grave robbing, human dissection, and murder dating back to the 1500s—to a time when the full name of the house was Flesh Tailor’s Court.  Closer examination of some of the closed off areas of Tailor’s Court reveal a room that seems to have been once used as an abattoir—a slaughterhouse—but was it in the distant past or as recently as the 1940s? 

With a sense of dread that is virtually palpable with each turn of the page, Wesley Peterson and his colleagues investigate these two cases, separated by some seventy years.  But with each clue that is uncovered, the chilling possibility that these two crimes may be very much linked and that the same killer may be responsible for both! 

Four trowels for this riveting mystery that will stick in the reader’s memory long after the last page has been turned. 

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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.