The Stone Chamber (2021) by Kate Ellis

Robert and Greta Gerdner had recently moved to their retirement home, a cottage in the Devon countryside. While the locals were perhaps a tad too rustic for their tastes, any differences certainly weren’t enough for the pair to be murder – or rather, executed, as both were found shot through the head.

DI Wesley Peterson’s first thought is that Robert’s past as a London policeman may be the cause of his death, despite only working in traffic, but when a link is found to some other deaths, the focus turns to Darkhole Grange, a former asylum with a dark past. All of the victims had received tickets for a tour of the place, but there seems no connection between the names on the list – apart, of course, from some of them being dead. And if Wesley doesn’t find the murderer, then the rest of the people on the list will be too…

First of all, apologies to Kate Ellis, who as regular readers of the blog know is one of my favourite modern authors. I was sent this a while ago, and finished it in plenty of time to get the review written by publication date – August 5th – but then life got in the way, and here we are.

For the poor unfortunate uninitiated out there, the format of the Wesley Peterson series is as follows – Wesley Peterson with his boss Gerry Heffernan and his team, notably DS Rachel Tracey investigate a murder or few (although it generally isn’t a random killer) while Wesley’s friend Neil Watson, an archaelologist, finds evidence of a crime from the distant or not-so-distant past that has parallels to the current case. And it’s all done so seamlessly, the reader never thinks of the fact that this coincidence has now happened twenty-five times!

These are beautifully crafted books, with the plot never stagnating. Kate makes a point of always moving the plot forward with another death, a revelation or a plot twist. Wesley is pleasant company – as are the supporting cast – and the suspects and victims are well-crafted and nicely distinct, so while the plot drives everything forward, there is plenty to look at along the way.

There’s an extra level to the past tale here, as we are treated to a succession of diary extracts from the fifties that relate to the discovery of some papers relating to the fate of an earlier woman that has parallels to her life. And there is more of a direct tie-in in the diarist’s life to the present-day case than is often the case.

I’m always impressed with Kate’s work and I really should know better than to doubt her. To wit, while it has been mentioned before that Wes doesn’t like closed spaces, here his claustrophobia is mentioned quite a bit, and, with the past story involving an anchoress – a religious hermit who basically locks themselves in a cell adjacent to a church – I was fully expecting an exciting climax with Wes locked in a box overcoming his fears to escape. But Kate is far smarter than that (and me) and that plot point goes in a much more unexpected direction. The killer is well hidden and while I guessed part of it, I was far from the whole picture. And I certainly didn’t anticipate the inevitable final twist that Kate really excels at.

Any criticisms? Well I could do with Rachel’s story moving forward (and away from Wesley) a bit quicker, as she seems to have been miserable for quite a lot of books now, and I didn’t find myself desperately caring about Wesley’s mysteriously ill son. But the other 99% of the book was solid gold, so I’ll let it go.

So, if you haven’t read Kate’s work before – and as the winner of the Dagger In The Library, you really should have – then it’s about time you corrected that omission. And for those of you who already enjoy Kate’s work, you don’t need my recommendation, do you?

The Stone Chamber was released in hardback and ebook on August 5th 2021. Many thanks to Kate and Piatkus for the review copy.

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