THE PLAGUE MAIDEN
By: Kate Ellis
Piatkus Publisher Ltd, London
In this, the eighth "Wesley Peterson murder mystery," author
Kate Ellis shows herself to be in top form. If her ploy of linking
mysterious happenings from the ancient past with contemporary crime would
seem to contain the potential for repetition and tired clichés, she has
by no means fallen into those traps yet.
The archaeology centers on the excavation of church property that is
the desired site for a new supermarket (yes, the Walmart-ization of rural
England is a reality). Under the direction of archaeologist Neil Watson,
friend and former college roommate of detective Wesley Peterson, the crew
begins to unearth one body after another and the haphazard disposal of the
bodies would indicate that they are in the midst of a 14th
Century "plague pit"—not the ideal location for opening a new
Meanwhile, the local police officers in the fictional Devon town of
Tradmouth find themselves overwhelmed with criminal activity, both old and
new. New evidence in the 12-year-old case of a murdered vicar (assigned to
the same church where Neil and his crew are digging) would strongly
indicate that an innocent man was sent to prison for that crime. At the
same time, an apparently deranged domestic terrorist carries out a veiled
threat of bioterrorism against the supermarket chain that wishes to build
a new store where Neil and company are excavating. The incidents of foul
play continue apace when Neil’s crew discovers, among the plague bit
burials, the body of young woman who had gone missing at about the same
the vicar was killed more than a decade earlier.
With great flair and imagination, Kate Ellis brings together these
events and crimes separated by centuries, decades and days into a neat cat’s
cradle of criminal detection.
I have, as is probably evident, grown very fond of the Kate Ellis
mysteries and I wish they were more available here in the United States.
If I could change one element of her Wesley Peterson series, it would be
to use real cities and locations in Devon rather than the fictionalized
ones she employs. She has freely admitted that Tradmouth is based on
Dartmouth, Morbay on Torbay, Bloxham on Brixham, etc. Using the real
locations, even if she needed to rearrange some geography for the sake of
plotting, would lend an air of verisimilitude to this otherwise wonderful
archaeology mystery series.
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