Book Reviews

Review Rating

With the October 2004 review, we began rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels; 
one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!

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The Stone Chamber by Kate Ellis

Reviewed on: September 1, 2023


Piatkus Publishing:  London
2021 (HC)

Kate Ellis’s twenty-fifth Wesley Peterson mystery continues the high level of literary inventiveness that she set in her very first entry back in 1998 with The Merchant’s House.  The basic outlines of her novels remain the same:  Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson is called upon to solve a contemporary (and often brutal) murder while his old college chum, archaeologist Neil Watson, is engaged in an excavation that in one way or another sheds light on the present-day crime.  After almost a quarter-century one would think this basic outline would grow old and stale, but it is a tribute to Ms. Ellis’s substantial literary talents that the stories and plot lines remain fresh and invariably present the reader with a “wow factor” at the denouement.

Her latest volume, The Stone Chamber, opens with the seemingly unrelated deaths of “escape room” proprietor Charlies Maddox by carbon monoxide poisoning and the execution-style shooting of newly retired husband and wife, Robert and Greta Gerdner at their Devon countryside home, Hawthorne Barn.  While DI Wesley Peterson and his boss, Detective Chief Inspector Gerry Heffernan are called in to investigate the double murder (Charlie Maddox’s asphyxiation death is believed to be the result of shoddy workmanship by a local plumber), Neil Watson is directing an excavation near by at the lost village of Long Bartonford, a deserted medieval village clustered around 12th Century church ruins.  The archaeology crew exposes what appears to be the tell-tale signs of an “anchor cell”—a closed room attached to the church that may have housed a medieval anchorite or anchoress—solitary monks or nuns who separated themselves from society as they sought a life of solitary contemplation.  The premise is born out when the archaeologists unearth the shallow grave of a young woman in the center of the cell.A young American woman, who has apparently been seeking her roots in the Devon area disappears from a nearby country house hotel and spa, and another, possibly related, execution of one of Neil’s excavation crew, presents Wesley and his colleagues with a bewildering puzzle.  Are these unrelated crimes or is there a web of malice that binds them together?

Ultimately, the clues that the Devon police follow lead to a complex series of events that, in a sense, began in medieval times, led to a terrible tragedy in the 1950s and culminated in the 21st Century crimes investigated by Wesley Peterson and his police colleagues.  And once again Wesley and his friend Neil realize that history can indeed repeat itself.

Four trowels for another outstanding Wesley Peterson mystery.

Twenty Years in the Trenches: Archaeology in Fiction

William Gresens, longtime MVAC supporter and volunteer, has been writing reviews of archaeological fiction as MVAC’s book reviewer for twenty years.  In this interview Bill shares how he got started writing reviews for MVAC, how the genre has changed, highlights, and his thoughts looking forward. 

Bill Gresen’s Book Review 20th Anniversary

While Bill's reviews go back 20 years now, his relationship with MVAC goes back more than twice that long! The reviews capture some of the things we enjoy most about Bill-- he's perceptive, methodical, a clear thinker, and a whole lot of fun! We look forward to this relationship--and Bill's reviews!--continuing for many years to come.

The March 2021 review marks the 20th anniversary of reviews of archaeological fiction.  It has been my pleasure and great fun to while away the hours reading these books—for the most part, at least—and writing the reviews!  My thanks to MVAC allowing me to prattle on and I look forward to the years ahead.

Bill Gresens