The Funeral Boat ~ Kate Ellis

  • Title: The Funeral Boat
  • Author: Kate Ellis
  • Series: Wesley Peterson #4
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  When young Carl Palister unearths a skeleton on a Devon smallholding, DS Wesley Peterson and his boss Gerry Heffernan are called in to investigate. Heffernan is convinced that the remains are those of Carl’s father, a local villain who vanished from the Tradmouth area three years before. Wesley isn’t so sure – he discovers evidence that suggests the skeleton is a good thousand years older than they first thought. A keen amateur archaeologist, Wesley is intrigued by the possibility that this is a Viking corpse, buried in keeping with ancient traditions. But he has a rather more urgent crime to solve-the disappearance of a Danish tourist.

At first it appears that Ingeborg Larsen may just have gone away for a few days without telling her landlady, but Wesley finds disturbing evidence that the attractive Dane has been abducted. Gerry Heffernan believes that Ms. Larsen’s disappearance is linked to a spate of brutal local robberies and that Ingeborg witnessed something she shouldn’t have. But is her disappearance linked to far older events? For it seems that this may not have been Ingeborg’s first visit to this far from quiet West Country backwater.

Review:  I enjoyed this book as much as I’ve enjoyed all the other Wesley Peterson novels I’ve read so far. A typical British mystery, intelligent and full of old English flavor, it reminded me of Dorothy Sayers and her Peter Wimsey novels.

My first introduction to the series came from my local second-hand bookseller. “Buy Kate Ellis,” she recommended. “I never have her books for long; they’re flying off the shelves.” After I read that first book, I understand why Ellis’s books sell well. What I don’t understand is why none of them says it is a bestseller. They definitely deserve to be.

Like all the novels of the series, this one combines several intertwined mysteries: an archeological mystery of the Vikings’ attacks on the Devon coast a thousand years ago, a series of current farm robberies coinciding with the annual Viking festival in town, and a kidnapping of a visiting Danish woman.

The action takes place in Devon, in the ancient town of Tradmouth, where Wesley Peterson, the protagonist of the series, works as a policeman. Detective Sergeant Peterson is an unusual policeman: he has a university degree in archeology. Many characters in the book describe him as a posh young black man, polite and charming. A son of two high-level doctors in Oxford and a grandson of a Trinidad detective, Wesley is fascinated by archeology. His university friend Neil, a local archeologist and a recurring character in the books, always tempts Wesley by archeological discoveries and old legends, but Wesley’s main concern is the safety of Tradmouth and her people.   

Complicated interpersonal dynamics in the books, prompted by multiple repeat personages, including Wesley’s wife, his boss, and his coworkers at the Tradmouth police station, embellish the story, which is primarily plot-driven. While the characters don’t change much from book to book, the plot lines are endlessly inventive and subjects to tons of historical research.

The action in the book moves deceptively slow, like a real police investigation. Wesley gathers information, questions witnesses, and chafes at the sluggish progress. Ellis writes: “Things were moving at the pace of an elderly and arthritic snail, and Wesley felt frustrated.”

As the clues pile up, the entire puzzle refuses to assemble. Suspicions mount, but nobody is sure of anything, not the Tradmouth police nor the readers. Everybody involved has a secret, but not all secrets are connected to the main crime. The pressure keeps building up, and everyone’s nerves thrum like taut strings, both inside the book and on the reader’s side, until the last couple of pages, when Wesley’s intuition and perseverance save the day.

Besides Ellis’s masterful handling of the art of mystery, her love for old England oozes off the pages. Tradmouth, the town where Wesley lives and works, is a charismatic character in itself. After reading my first novel of the series, I was enchanted by the town’s steep streets, old buildings, and busy harbor. I wanted to visit and explore Tradmouth and its shops, planned to include it in my itinerary of the next trip to England, until I read on Ellis’s website that she invented the town.

I still want to visit it… again. That’s why I don’t read the series back to back. I finish one book and take a break, knowing that there are ten more Wesley Peterson novels waiting for me, something to look forward to.

Highly recommended.

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