Friday, December 16, 2016

The Shining Skull by Kate Ellis

Kate Ellis' books are not easy to come by in the U.S., but if you have the chance to pick them up, they're worth it. She combines history with contemporary crime, has a team of police officers in Tradmouth in Devon, England, and includes details of the personal lives of the officers. This is the best of all possible worlds for my reading taste. She's on my list of authors who are not as well-known as they should be. I'm about nine years behind in reading her Wesley Peterson books, though, so maybe I'm part of the problem. But, it was wonderful to catch up with Peterson and his co-workers in The Shining Skull.

In 1976, Anna Fallbrook's young son, Marcus, was kidnapped. Thirty years later, a man claiming to be Marcus faced his half-brother at the same house. Although Adrian Fallbrook desperately wanted to believe it was his brother, he was also leery so he contacted the local police. While Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson and his boss, Gerry Heffernan, were suspicious, they were dealing with a strange crime. A driver would show up in what appeared to be a taxi, pick up a blonde who had called for a car, take her down a lane, and cut off her hair. The driver never appeared the same. The police feared that eventually the crimes would escalate to more than cutting off hair. And, then a young rock star is kidnapped one night after a fight with her mother.

While the police juggled cases, Wesley's old college friend, Dr. Neil Watson, is heading up an archaeological team that is disinterring and moving old graves in a churchyard. He becomes intrigued with strange symbols in the cemetery, symbols that relate to a sect that was popular in the early 19th century, The Shining Ones, followers of a prophetess named Joan Shiner. He's researching those stories while his team moves coffins. But, when a coffin falls apart, two bodies tumble from it.

Ellis has unusual storylines with a thirty-year-old kidnapping, the reappearance of a supposed victim, the "Barber" who is cutting off hair, a second kidnapping, a religious sect, and an extra body. And, she manages to tie them all together beautifully. One of Kate Ellis' strengths is her ability to tie together historical and contemporary crimes. Actually, the crime uncovered at the archaeological site usually provides the hints that Wesley and his co-workers need to solve their own cases.

The police team in Ellis' books are well-developed. Wesley works well with his boss, Gerry. The younger officers all have personal issues to deal with, but Wesley and Gerry do as well. Wesley's relates to his relationship with his wife and mother-in-law, while Gerry's problems have included loneliness. The author handles personal relationships realistically.

Ellis ends her books with a historical note, telling how she changed or included historical events. But, they don't have to be major events. They can be small stories of people or stories of life in the past, and those events trigger Wesley's discoveries. The Shining Skull is another fascinating mystery in Kate Ellis' ongoing series showing there's little new in the world of crime, and people still have the same motives as they did centuries earlier.

Kate Ellis' website is

The Shining Skull by Kate Ellis. Piatkus. 2007. ISBN 9780749938093 (paperback), 274p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I've owned the book for quite some time.


Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I agree with all your comments (though as I am one book further behind can't comment on this one), and it makes me want to move up the next one to be read. (This is actually a problem, as I woke up to find the library had checked out two MORE ebooks to me that had been on my want list!) I picked up the first few on trips to England, then got a friend to send me a few more, finally bought the last few online (though I'm sure I am not up to date).

If you like British history (it was my field of study) you can't go wrong with these.

Lesa said...

Jeff, It's good to hear someone who studied British history say you can go wrong with these books. I find them so fascinating, covering the little bits of background from history. I appreciate all those small pieces that bring history to life.

Diane said...

Based on your review yesterday I put a hold on the first one in the series. My library seems to have the whole series and we are a smallish boro so maybe not so hard to get. Looking forward to reading it when I get home again. Like a lot of your recommendation it does sound appealing to me.

Lesa said...

I hope you enjoy the series as much as Jeff & I do, Diane.