The Funeral Boat by Kate Ellis (Minotaur, 2002) is the fourth book featuring Detective Sergeant Wesley Peterson. This is an enduring series, with the 22nd title scheduled for release in April 2018. Peterson left the turbulence of London for the quiet life of a Devonshire policeman and finds that Devon police can sometimes be given tough problems to solve too. Peterson has a degree in archaeology which is useful in this region rich with ties to the past. Each story in the series invariably has a contemporary whodunit with some kind of link to a misdeed from long ago, resulting in a crime novel that is part historical mystery and part police procedural and, at least in the case of this book, the best of both. Fans of Elly Griffiths’ books about Ruth Galloway are likely to enjoy this series, although it is heavier on police procedure and lighter on romance than Griffiths’.
In this book home invasions are occurring in the isolated farms outside Devon, with the burglars threatening the families with shotguns to keep them at bay as the crooks ransack the houses and make off with the farm vehicles. Wesley and his boss Inspector Gerry Heffernan are called to the latest incident, where the farm owner decided to challenge the thieves and is severely wounded for his trouble.
Then a resident finds a skeleton while excavating his land for drainage. Wesley calls in his university friend who is on an archaeological dig at a nearby church to confirm that it is centuries old and not the body of the former owner who disappeared a few years ago, as Heffernan believes. Back at the police station one of Wesley’s colleagues takes a report from a local bed-and-breakfast owner whose Danish lodger has not returned from her day out. The family of one of the police constables becomes the next target of the home invading crew before Wesley can make much headway on any of these cases. Suddenly the small police force is stretched to the utmost trying to handle this quick crime wave.
Some of the crimes have surprising connections to others. The author ties each thread up efficiently and logically. The best bits of this book include the short excerpts from a diary written by a medieval monk that precede each chapter. The diary documents a raid on the Devon area by the plundering Danes around 1000 A.D., destroying the monk’s church and most of the surrounding community, which sets the context for the centuries-old skeleton.
This book reminded me of another Ellis who based a mystery on the Danish invasions of England in 1144, The Summer of the Danes by Ellis Peters, Brother Cadfael #19.
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books; 1st edition (July 15, 2002)
Aubrey Hamilton © 2018
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal IT projects by day and reads mysteries at night.