Book review: The Cadaver Game by Kate Ellis

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The amazing Kate Ellis and her cerebral black detective Wesley Peterson are becoming a ‘force’ to be reckoned with...

THE Cadaver Game is the 16th novel in the Liverpool-born author’s cleverly constructed, classic crime series which shows no sign of flagging as it continues to weave past and present into complex, thrilling mysteries.

Excellent police procedural detail, compelling plots, stand-out characters, old fashioned detective work and fascinating historical links make Ellis’s books a real treat.

Her main man, the quick-thinking, right-thinking DI Peterson, is a trained archaeologist who eschewed digging up the past to unearth the criminals who sully his West Country patch.

His sidekick at work is Gerry Heffernan, a middle-aged, overweight DCI who never allows a little thing like murder to ruin his pleasures, and his out-of-office pal is archaeologist Neil Watson whose commissions often lead Wesley into buried secrets and crimes.

An anonymous tip-off takes Peterson and Heffernan to an unpretentious Victorian cottage in a quiet suburb where they discover the decomposing body of a murdered woman. It’s a grim start to the day, even if it is Friday the thirteenth, but ‘the stench of the grave’ is nothing new for our doughty detectives.

The estate agent’s books reveal the tenant is a woman called Tessa Trencham but Peterson is not convinced the body is hers, particularly as a friend claims that Tessa is currently in France.

Before he can start making further enquiries, Peterson becomes involved in another more disturbing case. The naked bodies of two missing 18-year-olds have been found with shotgun wounds at the foot of a cliff.

Both teenagers had been obsessively following a gruesome online game called Blood Hunt – could they have been persuaded to play the hunt game for real?

Meanwhile, Watson has been paid a fistful of cash by a pretentious artist to dig up a picnic table and banquet, an early work of ‘conceptual art’ which he and his friends symbolically buried in a field at nearby Catton Hall 16 years ago.

When a skeleton is found, horrific events from 200 years ago and the terrifying contents of two journals linked to the old hall come back to haunt the present day. Peterson is on the trail of a sinister manhunt, mirroring events from the time of the Napoleonic Wars, and he finally has to face a terrible truth. History is repeating itself and it seems that old crimes are never truly buried…

One of the most striking elements of Ellis’s Wesley Peterson series is her ability to keep us on our toes. She resists the temptation to overload her mysteries with clues and instead drops small nuggets of information into the plot, barely rippling the surface of our consciousness.

This strategy leaves little room for second guessing the culprits and allows the finale to pack a surprising punch.

Another intelligent story from an author who goes from strength to strength.

(Piatkus, paperback, £7.99)