The Shining Skull, by Kate Ellis

>> Saturday, August 13, 2011

TITLE: The Shining Skull
AUTHOR: Kate Ellis

PAGES: 274

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 11th in the Wesley Peterson series

Little Marcus Fallbrook was kidnapped in 1976 and when he never returned home, his grieving family assumed the worst. Then, thirty years later, teenage singing star Leah Wakefield disappears and DI Wesley Peterson has reason to suspect that the same kidnapper is responsible. And another abductor is at work in the area - a man who tricks blonde women into a bogus taxi and cuts off their hair. Has Leah fallen prey to the man the newspapers call 'The Barber' or has she suffered a more sinister fate?

But then Marcus Fallbrook returns from the dead. And when DNA evidence confirms his identity, the investigation takes a new twist. Meanwhile, archaeologist, Neil Watson's gruesome task of exhuming the dead from a local churchyard yields a mystery of its own when a coffin is found to contain one corpse too many - a corpse that may be linked to a strange religious sect dating back to Regency times. Wesley has his hands full elsewhere - slowly, Marcus Fallbrook begins to recover memories that Wesley hopes will lead him to cunning and dangerous murderer. But he is about to discover that the past can be a very dangerous place indeed.
I came across Kate Ellis' books in my last rummage through my library's shelves. They sounded great, kind of cozy, and depending on the series, with either an archeological or supernatural element as well.

The one I chose first, for the simple reason that it was the earliest available in one of the series, was The Shining Skull. A little boy who was kidnapped in the 70s suddenly turns up again, all grown up, claiming a recent knock on the head sparked off memories of his pre-kidnapping life. Within days, a young popstar is kidnapped, in a way that suggests it might have been done by the person behind the 1970s case. Policeman Wesley Peterson feels a bit out of his depth and it doesn't help that he's also busy trying to catch a weirdo who impersonates taxi drivers to drive women to an isolated location and cut off their hair.

While this is going on, archeologist Neil Watson is working at a local church, helping move the graveyard. His interest is engaged when one of the coffins accidentally opens, and they find two bodies inside, in case that seems to have connections to a mysterious 18th century sect.

Good stuff, I thought, and started reading. Unfortunately, this was a case of great premise and ideas, so-so execution. The book read quickly enough, but the characterisation... oh, dear. Cartoonish characters, no subtlety, all telling instead of showing, and to cap it all, a viciousness when describing some women characters (especially the young woman who's kidnapped) that made me feel quite queasy.

As for the plot, I love mysteries where there are all sorts of seemingly completely unrelated elements that are then brought together in the conclusion. When done well, that can be really, really satisfying. Here it wasn't a complete disaster, but it wasn't great, either. A few threads were cleverly tied together, but with others, I just went "really?". The 18th century sect bit was interesting enough, and it was clever how the big revelation about what had happened to a particular person reflected what had happened in the present-day case, but much more could have been done with it.

Oh, well, at least I tried a new author. Now to decide whether to bother reading the other book I got out as well, the first in the other series.



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