The Plague Maiden by Kate Ellis

The Plague MaidenHuntleys Supermarket isn’t having the best of times. After a woman dies of botulism poisoning, anonymous letters warn of more contaminated goods. The excavation of the site for the new store has uncovered an apparent plague pit from the fourteenth century, containing corpse after corpse… one of which seems to have fillings and the remains of modern clothing. All of this seems to link to the murder of the local vicar ten years previously. And by a coincidence, evidence has just arisen to seriously question the guilt of the man sent to prison for the crime…

The alert reader will note that I reviewed the preceding book, The Skeleton Room, quite recently. But there are a couple of reasons for me coming back to Kate Ellis so soon. Apart from the obvious one, that I’m a big fan of her work, Tony at Formby Books (recently re-opened in a new location) has let me know that she’ll be coming to the store in early March (Saturday 9th, I think) to sign copies of her new hardback, The Shadow Collector. I’m sure there’ll be copies of many of her other outstanding mysteries as well, in particular The Cadaver Game, her most recent paperback. If you want to have a search for reviews of her other books, then click here – I will get round to putting a page up for her reviews soon, as this is my eleventh review of her books, all positive.

Anyway, enough of her other books, what about this one?

I recently praised Kerry Wilkinson’s Locked In for giving up a detective without any major “issues” and almost forgot that I’ve been reading about one in the shape of Wesley Peterson for ages. Even rarer, his boss, Gerry Heffernan, a strong character in his own right, is always on his side and his team, with the exception of the rather primitive Steve Carstairs, are similarly free from any major hang-ups. Oh, there is the ongoing attraction that Rachel Tracey has for our hero, which I’ve been hoping for a while will get resolved soon. Still waiting…

One of Ellis’s major strengths is weaving together plot strands. With at least four different plot threads going on simultaneously, there is always a danger that a writer can lose track of one, or pick a less interesting one to concentrate on. That is certainly not the case here, as not only does each keep moving, picking up momentum as they go, they weave together in a very impressive manner. I was rather surprised when one of the plots seemed to finish earlier than expected, but, as ever, it was all part of a very impressive big picture.

Mystery wise, I think the solution is hinted at, rather than out-and-out clued, but that’s enough for a book like this. There’s a fair few misdirections bouncing around here, which had me looking around in all directions.

And I shouldn’t finish the praise without this book without a vague mention of a couple of last-minute revelations that are the book equivalent of a kick in the stomach. Extremely well done. And hopefully a third incident in the finale will be built on in the next book.

This series seems to be getting better and better with every book. I’ll be jumping ahead soon for the latest in the series, but there’s every chance that I’ll be back before then for the next in the series after this one.

Highly recommended.


  1. Thanks for this very useful review of a series that I need to get back to and try again. Especially useful that you note that it gets better with each book, as I was not that impressed with the first in the series. Now that I think about it, my husband might like the series. He reads several series that feature archaeology.


    • It’s worth pointing out that I think it was the later books, The Jackal Man and The Cadaver Game that got me hooked. Apart from The Armada Boy (the second book) which was outstanding, the series has been steadily improving towards the quality of her current output. I’d say that it’s virtually there with this one…


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