Piatkus Publishing: London
Kate Ellis returns with her 21st “Wesley Peterson Murder Mystery,” and her story-telling skills remain flawless. What makes this remarkable is that in every volume of the series, she seamlessly binds an episode from past history—usually being examined and excavated by County Archaeologist Neil Watson—to a contemporary crime investigated by Neil’s close friend and former college roommate Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson of the Tradmouth, Devon CID. Despite the repeated use of this format, Ms. Ellis keeps her plots fresh and imaginative and inevitably keeps the reader in suspense until almost the last page.
In The Mermaid Screams, Neil Watson has been contracted by a wealthy American, Karl Banville, to excavate the grounds of Newfield Manor, a stately home now lying in ruins. Banville wishes to renovate the old manor house into a tourist hotel and needs the archaeology survey to help him complete the administrative regulations required by the Tradmouth Council’s conservation office. Upon accepting the scope of work, Neil learns that Banville has ancestral ties to Newfield Manor and wishes him to investigate the 1884 murder of a young bride, Mary Field, which took place on the manor house grounds. The suspected killer of Mary Field was William Banville, Karl’s ancestor. It is clear that this stain on the family name has obsessed Karl Banville for a very long time and that he believes Neil’s investigations can clear his William and his descendants of this blot.
Meanwhile Wesley Peterson and his colleagues at the Tradmouth Criminal Investigation Department find themselves investigating several seemingly unrelated incidents in the bucolic environs of County Devon. David Gough, proprietor of a caravan (trailer) park reports finding the bodies of two customers—Frank and Gina Lombard; likely suicides or a murder/suicide. Zac Wilkerson, the author of several semi-successful biographies, goes missing and is eventually, and quite accidentally, discovered bludgeoned to death in a Staniland, an author, who, after penning five very successful novels, quit writing and had become a recluse, along with his stepdaughter, in rural Devon. Following leads in the case, Wesley and his associates begin to believe that Staniland is being less than candid with them and that his past life—including the death of his young wife—may mask dark secrets. A prime suspect, Callum Joy, is apprehended for the murder of Zac Wilkerson—a young man who shared reform school time with Wilkerson. Callum, while most assuredly a petty criminal, proves not to be the killer but does shed valuable light on the true identity of Zac Wilkerson and helps Wesley and his colleagues to break up a slave-labor operation in their own backyard.
The disparate plot threads begin weave themselves together as Wesley digs deeply into the histories and backgrounds of Zac Wilkerson and the reclusive Wynn Staniland. Before the case comes to its stunning denouement, all of those disparate threads come together in a dark tapestry that links Wilkerson, Staniland, the Lombards and even the 19th century death of Mary Field.
Four trowels for this imaginative and haunting murder mystery!