Wednesday 19 February 2014

The Shroud Maker by Kate Ellis - review

The Shroud Maker is the latest in Kate Ellis's long series set in a fictionalised Dartmouth, and featuring DI Wesley Peterson. Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm a fan of Kate's books, and the first thing to say about this one is that is definitely up to standard. I thought I'd figured out the solution, but although I'd latched on to one element of the plot, much of the ending came as a surprise to me.

The story is complex,and as usual, events in the present have a parallel with a mystery of the past. Although I don't know much about archaeology, Kate's specialist subject, I am very keen on history, and there are events in medieval times and at the end of the nineteenth century that add a level of fascination to the story, as well as plenty of plot complication when old bones are unearthed in a dig.

Quite apart from these echoes of the past, the part of the story set in the present is complicated in itself. It features a curious online game (Kate's fascination with games, which I share, was also evident in the excellent The Cadaver Game) and involves the mystery of a young woman who went missing a year ago, during a local festival with historic roots. Then another young woman disappears. The gripping storyline involves not only Wesley, but also, in a very personal way, his boss Gerry. One of the various sub-plots involves a trip that Wesley takes to Manchester with a young colleague who fancies him. Suffice to say that there is a lot going on in this story, and I'm absolutely confident that I will not be the only reader who fails to figure out how all the different plot strands inter-link.

Kate and I write differently in a number of important ways, but we do share a number of interests, and as mystery fans and writers of the same generation from the north west of England, we naturally have quite a lot in common. I was struck by the fact that one aspect of this story was not a million miles away from a sub-plot in my current work-in-progress (which nobody else, not even my agent, has yet seen), while another was slightly comparable to something that happens in my last book, The Frozen Shroud.(yep, there is, as Margery Allingham would say, a fashion in shrouds!). Yet we never discuss our story ideas with each other, so how does this happen, and should we worry about it? I think it happens because some ideas (and book titles) tend to fit with the mood of a particular time, and appeal especially to writers with similar concerns. Tess Gerritsen, for instance, used the same title, The Bone Garden, that Kate had used previously. I'm sure it's nothing for either of us to worry about, because the books in question are actually very distinct. This sort of thing has always happened - I've come across many examples while researching Golden Age fiction, for instance, and I have no doubt that it always will.


Anonymous said...

Martin - I'm glad you enjoyed this latest from Kate Ellis. And I'm not in the least surprised, given your similar interests, generations, locations and so on, that there are also some similarities in the plot points, etc., that you develop. It does give one pause though when one sees those common threads.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks Margot. I've been intrigued to learn recently that Dorothy L Sayers' plot ideas overlapped with those of some of her friends, and I'm sure there are many other examples.