Kate Ellis’s twentieth Wesley Peterson Murder Mystery follows the pattern she has established in the previous volumes: A contemporary crime and its solution is inextricably tied to the past—and very often, the distant past. While in the hands of a less skilled writer, this could become formulaic and predictable—not to mention, incredibly boring. But Ms. Ellis is a very accomplished writer and her plots are never predictable, and the narrative is never boring!
In this latest entry, the threads of this tale are initially widely separated by both time and geography: An infant is snatched from his stroller (pram) in 1958 in South Devon, the 18th Century journal of Richard D’Arles, the scion of a prominent South Devon family embarking on his “Grand Tour” of Europe records the growing horror he encounters on his travels; in the present, archaeologist Neil Watson, leading a field school at the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento, Sicily, learns from a fellow countryman of a medieval site with a sinister history called the House of Eyes; a young woman, Leanne Hatman, disappears from her living quarters at Eyecliffe Country Hotel and Spa outside Tradmouth, Devon; and all of these strands may in turn trace back to the Thirteenth Century Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, Fredrick II, considered by many historians as the first modern ruler.
Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson and his boss Detective Chief Inspector Gerry Heffernan look into the matter of the missing Leanne Hatman at the plea of her father Darren, an ex-convict well known to DCI Heffernan. The initial investigation puts in question the nature of Leanne’s disappearance for she has apparently been estranged from both of her parents at one time or another and has had dreams of a modeling career, and she may have simply followed those dreams, aided and abetted by a shadowy “fashion” photographer, to London without informing anyone.
But the case takes on a new urgency when first the father, Darren, and then the mother, Marion, are brutally murdered on the grounds of Eyecliffe Hotel. The hotel is the renovated Eyecliffe Castle, which until the 1970s had been owned by the D’Arles family since the days of Henry VIII, and the ancient property has had ominous tales and legends swirl about it for centuries. Upon his return from Sicily, archaeologist and long-time friend of Wesley Peterson, Neil Watson, joins his Devon crew to excavate the water mill at Eyecliffe. Their efforts unearth evidence that those sinister tales of the Eyecliffe Castle might not have merely been the stuff of legend.
Wesley Peterson and his crew of investigators, with the aid of Neil Watson and his crew of archaeologists bring past and present together to solve the mystery of Eyecliffe and to demonstrate once again a favorite maxim of author Ellis: That contemporary evil will often have its roots sunk deeply in the past.
Three trowels for this crisply-written, well-conceived whodunit.