Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Plague Maiden by Kate Ellis

First Sentence: The intruder stood quite still and listened.

In 1991, a man was convicted of murdering the Reverend Shipbourne during the course of a robbery. Now, many years later, a letter appears at the police station addressed to the former Chief Inspector claiming there is evidence the man was innocent. The police already have one case on their hands of someone placing tampered, poisoned food on the shelves of the local supermarket, and another case where a quite recent body is found during the archaeological dig of a plague pit.

The story does open with a prologue—suspenseful, thrilling, and compelling without giving anything away or having been lifted from the middle of the story. Instead, it sets the stage and carries us willingly forward into the first chapter. At the same time, contrary as this seems, the book also could have done without it as the opening chapter also performs the same function.

Although the book is designated as a “Wesley Peterson murder mystery,” this really is an ensemble cast. What’s nice is that they are individuals, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, personal issues, and habits. In other words, they are very human. How can one not like a pathologist who insists on a cuppa and biscuit before discussing autopsy findings?

Ellis does have a very good ear for dialogue, adding just the right touch of wryness…”Perhaps we should have a word with ex-DCI Norbert, then.” “That’d be difficult unless you’re thinking of holding a séance…”

There are three threads, from three periods of time but all woven together in the present. The historical and archaeological information is fascinating, including the chapter-opening diary excerpts. The plot twists are very well done and the conclusion effective. Ellis has a remarkable ability to establish a feeling of empathy in the reader, even toward those who killed. She doesn’t ask us to excuse their crimes, but to understand them. Yet she then turns that emotion around with an act of complete heartlessness that is like a punch to the gut.

The Plaque Maiden” is a very good, well plotted mystery of secrets, lies, human weaknesses and regrets.

THE PLAGUE MAIDEN (Pol Proc/Archeo-DI Wesley Peterson-England-Contemp) – VG
Ellis, Kate – 8th in series
Piatkus, 2004

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