Reviews by L. J. Roberts

KATE ELLIS – The Merchant’s House. Piatkus, UK, hardcover, 1998. St. Martin’s, US, hardcover, 1999.

Genre:   Police procedural. Leading character:  Sgt. Wesley Peterson; 1st in series. Setting:   England.

KATE ELLIS Wesley Peterson

First Sentence:   The child flung his tricycle aside and toddled, laughing, toward the basking cat.

    A university graduate in archeology and the first black police officer in Tradmouth, DS Wesley Peterson begins his first day at work with a murder. The body of a young woman has been found off a cliff path, the damage to her face rendering her unrecognizable.

   Wesley’s university friend, Neill, is heading a team of archeologists on the site of a 17th century merchant’s house in town when the skeleton of a child is found. A fellow officer is dealing with the mother of a missing toddler who is adamant her son is still alive in spite of a lack of clues.

   Can a clue from the past solve a crime in the present?

   To find a book which is a skillful combination of archeology and police procedure is definitely in my “happy-reader” zone. Ms. Ellis does just that and much more. Although the locations are fictional, I was ready to pack my back and go. Those who are familiar would know the differences, but for those who don’t, the locations are visual and real.

   Not only is there a nice introduction to Wesley, but to all the book’s major characters. One thing particularly refreshing is that the police officers all like one another and work as a team. There is an odd man out, but you don’t feel he’ll be there long. It’s not just the primary characters Ms. Ellis brings to life, but the secondary characters as well. I never had to question who a character was or why there were there.

   It can be a tricky business, bringing together four plot lines, but it works. The information from the 17th century is provided in diary excerpts as chapter headings, while fascinating, does not intrude on the present-day investigations.

   The dig at the merchant’s house plays to Wesley’s background and as an escape from issues at home. The kidnapping is largely the responsibility of another team, and the murdered girl is Wesley’s primary investigation. Yet Ms. Ellis cleverly designates Wesley as the hub which brings together the various spokes of the wheel in a way I didn’t predict until it was revealed.

   The Merchant’s House is a very good police procedural in which the plot unfolds not by flash, but bit-by-bit, following the clues. It is filled with great characters, dialogue, humour, and a plot that kept me reading. Happily there are many more books ahead in this series.

Rating:   Very Good.

       The Wesley Peterson series —

1. The Merchant’s House (1998)
2. The Armada Boy (1999)

KATE ELLIS Wesley Peterson

3. An Unhallowed Grave (1999)
4. The Funeral Boat (2000)
5. The Bone Garden (2001)
6. A Painted Doom (2002)
7. The Skeleton Room (2003)

KATE ELLIS Wesley Peterson

8. The Plague Maiden (2004)
9. A Cursed Inheritance (2005)
10. The Marriage Hearse (2006)
11. The Shining Skull (2007)
12. The Blood Pit (2008)

KATE ELLIS Wesley Peterson

13. A Perfect Death (2009)
14. The Flesh Tailor (2010)
15. The Jackal Man (2011)

Editorial Comment:   LJ, your last sentence seems to be rather an understatement!