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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Death Season by Kate Ellis

July 1, 2016

Piatkus Publishers:  London
2015 (PB)

Kate Ellis continues her unbroken string of complex and fascinating studies of the nature of evil—in both contemporary and past times—featuring the criminal investigation of Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson and the archaeological investigations of his old college “mate,” Neil Watson.  She does not disappoint in this, the nineteenth entry in the series.

In 1913 a young woman in service at Sandon House on the South Devon coast finds herself carrying the child of the son of her wealthy mistress; when he returns from aiding his aunt at nearby Paradise Court with financial matters he learns of the child and summarily dismisses her and she returns to her home in neighboring Sandrock, a fishing village perched on the bluffs above the English Channel.  In 1918, a vicious storm brings most of Sandrock crashing down to the beach below, losing lives and much of the village history in one calamitous night.

In 1979, ten year old Fiona Carp in brutally murdered at a summer holiday camp; the case remains unsolved by the local police.  In 1980, Chris Savernake is saved from drowning by a mysterious young man, who thereafter becomes Chris’s constant companion.

In the present, Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson and his Tradmouth CID colleagues investigate what appears to be the untimely death of a man staying at the Morbay Palace Hotel.  The coroner ascertains that the victim, who appears to have gone by several identities, was murdered.  Paulette Reeves, a figure from the man’s past and a likely suspect, also meets an unfortunate demise.  The subsequent investigation indicates murder and reveals a heinous secret Paulette has hidden on her property.  The rather routine murder investigation Wesley had anticipated has turned into something much more than routine!

At the same time, Neil Watson is consulting on an excavation at the ruined fishing village of Sandrock for the new reality TV program, Ultra Dig, with Lucy Zinara, an attractive young archaeologist with expertise in Orkney Neolithic studies.  He is simultaneously directing a salvage excavation for Heritage Trust at Paradise Court, a property owned by English gentry in generations past.  As it happens, Lucy Zinara has family ties to Paradise Court and has, in part, taken the position at Sandrock to be near her mother, who is caring for her 100-year-old great-grandmother who is living out her last days at nearby Sandton nursing home.

Kate Ellis pulls all of these (and other) disparate threads together to weave yet another compelling mystery—part police procedural, part psychological thriller and part archaeology mystery.  I have, in the past, had one criticism of this series:  while the author has, with each successive novel, allowed the reader to peer with increasing clarity into the temperament and nature of Wesley Peterson, Neil Watson has remained a relatively flat and opaque character—until now.  The Death Season not only gives him depth and feeling heretofore largely missing, but also allows him to play a larger role in solving the mystery central to the novel.

Four trowels for the nineteenth Wesley Peterson/Neil Watson mystery.