The Merchant’s House by Kate Ellis

During an excavation of an Elizabethan merchant’s house, archaeologist Neil Watson discovers the bones of a new-born baby. His old friend Wesley Peterson, newly arrived in Tradmouth CID, finds parallels with one of his cases – the disappearance without a trace of a local toddler from his garden. Elsewhere, the body of a young woman is found with her face bashed in beyond recognition. As the investigation proceeds, more and more parallels between the present and the past become apparent…

This is the first of the Wesley Peterson novels by Kate Ellis – see this post as to why I’m reviewing it now. Well, beyond the fact that I’ve reviewed both An Unhallowed Grave and The Jackal Man from the same series and enjoyed them both. But first books can be tricky things… you’ve got to set up your cast as well as telling a story that makes you want to come back for more. So, does this series opener leave you wanting to come back for more?

Yes, it certainly does.

It sounds like an odd combination, archaeology and police procedural, but it works rather nicely. By making Wesley’s best friend in charge of the dig and with Wesley having a natural interest in the subject as well, it fits nicely into the main plot while never seeming intrusive. The present day story takes priority as well – the story of the past is mostly confined to short sections from the merchant’s diary at the start of the chapters. I’ve found in some other books that try and combine both a past and a present case that when the past is given too much page space, both of the stories tend to be diluted, but that is certainly not the case here. It adds a gloss to the story but does not distract from the main plot.

There’s a good central characters here – Wesley isn’t a solo detective but part of a team, all of whom, to varying degrees are perfectly competent. Indeed, it’s only at the final deduction where it’s Wesley who makes the critical difference. And while none of the characters are faultless, neither they so scarred that they sit around discussing their woes all of the time. They just get on with investigating the crime.

Plotwise, this is a nicely layered mystery – even if you piece together what is going on, there’s still the murderer to spot. I don’t think I’d say it’s a classic mystery, cluewise, but from the school of “only one thing makes sense”, but it’s very well put together and still managed to surprise me at the end.

So far, this series is three for three for me, and I’ll certainly be picking it up again in the future – highly recommended.


  1. I really liked your previous Ellis reviews so have purchased one of her books already (can’t remember which at the mo) – I kind of wish the hero had a different first name though as it reminds me of ST: TNG – sorry, very superficial of me I know, but it’s the benefits of a trashy 80s education …


    • If you want the memory of Wesley Crusher expunged, I heartily recommend the episodes of The Big Bang Theory that guest star Wil Wheaton – and generally mock Wesley Crusher at the same time. Highly amusing.


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