Thursday, December 27, 2018

Review of The Death Season by Kate Ellis (2015, Piatkus Books)

A man is found dead in a Devon hotel room. It appears to be a natural death, but bits of the scene do not quite add up. Shortly afterwards a woman acquainted with the man, and the police’s chief suspect in his murder, is also found dead. To add to the mystery, the man’s DNA matches that found under the fingernails of a teenage girl murdered in 1979 at a holiday camp. DI Wesley Peterson sets about investigating the crimes, along with DCI Gerry Heffernan who is meant to be on light duties, convinced there must be a connection to the earlier murder. All the time he’s spending on the case is, however, placing a strain on his home life. At the same time, Peterson’s friend and archaeologist, Neil Watson, is investigating a ruined village that slid into the sea at the end of the First World War and excavating an ice house in a nearby country house. It is throwing up its own secrets that also might involve murder. Peterson and his colleagues start to try to track down workers from the old holiday camp, but whoever the murderer is sticking to the shadows and unwittingly Peterson’s actions are putting his family at risk.

The Death Season is the 19th entry in the Wes Peterson police procedural series set in a fictional town Devon. In this outing he finds himself investigating four deaths; the first present-day victim is connected by DNA to an unsolved murder of a teenage girl in 1977, the second victim provided his alibi, and the third is the second’s mother. His friend, archaeologist Neil Watson, finds himself looking into the suspicious death of a young girl in 1918. The strength of the story are the lead characters and the packed plot. As well as the three main threads – the two contemporary murders and suspicious death, the cold case from the seventies, and the First World War mystery – Ellis splices in another linked cold case and a threat to Peterson’s family. Where the story suffers is with all the coincidental and family links between all the cases, victims and lead characters. While the number of interconnections adds a certain frisson and tension to the plot, it also undermines the credibility of the story rendering it being held together by a web of unlikely plot devices. The archaeological tale also just felt like filler being linear and relatively thin. The result is an interesting, tangled story that felt a bit overly contrived.

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