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The Skeleton Room by Kate Ellis

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The Skeleton Room by Kate Ellis

A Wesley Peterson Murder Mystery

Summer for many readers is the time to read a mystery novel – or to read right through a series of books featuring the same detective. It may have taken the author a decade to write a series of novels but they can be polished off by a reader in one summer. I’ve just read the seventh in the Wesley Peterson Murder Mystery series by Kate Ellis.

The Skeleton Room begins with the gruesome discovery of a skeleton, tied to a chair, in a closed off room in a former girl’s school. Wesley Peterson and his boss, Gerry Heffernan, are hoping that this skeleton is more than 70 years old – and that they will not be required to investigate her murder. Chadleigh Hall is an old building and it is possible that the skeleton pre-dates the years when it was used as a school – but there was a student who disappeared one summer several years earlier.

As always, in this series, there is a parallel story set in the far past. Wesley Peterson studied archaeology at University and although he joined the police force his friend, Neil, is a practicing archaeologist working in the same area of south Devon. In this novel Neil is investigating a shipwreck and we learn a great deal about the history of the wreckers who lured ships into the rocky coast – the rule being that if no one was left alive the wreckage was theirs to recover. It was believed that many a local resident of the time actively made sure that there were no survivors. Each chapter begins with some text from a book written in 1771 by the local clergyman who exposes the evil deeds of his parishioners.

Meanwhile, there is another body, this one definitely contemporary and needing to be investigated. The body of a woman – fallen or pushed – off the cliffs into the sea. And as always there are the personal concerns of the characters woven into the story. The fact that Wesley is the only black man on the force is no longer much of an issue, but there are occasional moments of prejudicial behaviour when he and his wife, Pam, a white woman, are out together. Pam is pregnant for the second time and feeling worn out with looking after a toddler and working as a teacher. Wesley is busy with his job, distracted sometimes by an attraction to a female police officer, questioning the effort it takes to be happy at home. Gerry Heffernan, widowed for some time, his adult children home for the summer, is thinking it might be time for some female companionship, but is finding it a challenge to figure out how to go about it all after a long and happy marriage.

The plots of many murder mystery novels are based on fact and all of the Kate Ellis novels begin with an historical situation that in some way intersects with the modern day murder case. Her novels are always satisfying, with enough twists and turns and red herrings, along with the many suspects, to keep the reader guessing. Perfect reading for a lazy summer day.

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