I'm having fun with my January 2013 reads but much of that's due to having fallen head over heels for Kate Ellis and her Wesley Peterson series of mysteries, which I've already mentioned here. They're my bedtime reads, my Kindle splurges (which I should not allow myself, considering my semi-vow to do better with book purchases this year), the reason I look forward to going to bed at night, putting away the computer and closing the other books I'm reading concurrently.
Apparently, they're worth the sacrifice of sleep since 1:00 a.m. rolls around to find me still reading, most nights. Terrible habit, I know. Life shortening, which should be reason enough to force me to change my ways. It's not that I want to live to 100, though. Rather, I need all the years I have left in order to READ MORE BOOKS.
Tell me that one shocked you.
I blew through The Merchant's House and The Armada Boy and am now getting embroiled in An Unhallowed Grave. I am an addict, hopelessly in love with the author's method of using archaeological digs to relate to contemporary fictional murders committed in a fictional town in Devonshire, England.
And, of course, it's this England I picture in my head as I'm reading:
Looks like a cottage a hobbit would live in, the cottage of my dreams, though I assure you my feet are most certainly NOT hairy. I may occasionally eat two breakfasts but I'm not a big fan of adventures or leaving home. I do not bear Belladonna Took's genes, my friends. I would wave off Bilbo, staying home to bake the breads and make the cheeses, tending the garden and smoking my pipe. Wait, that's another book.
The reality of Ellis's fictional "Tradmouth," based on Dartmouth (below), Devon, isn't all that different from my dream of quaint atmosphere:
It makes my heart ache imagining living someplace so lovely. It's like a dream world, a fairy land. When I see photos like this I stop and ask myself why I live in suburbia, how it is I ignored the voice in my head screaming at me to relocate back when I could, instead staying in the American Mid-West, land of waving corn and mooing cows. And Chicago, yes. A beautiful city with lots to recommend itself. But...
And that's a big BUT.
So much for the dreams of the young and clueless. On to the realities of the middle-aged and settled and the fictional worlds we use to comfort ourselves. In novels filled with... murders? Ah, well. They are in a beautiful location.
Even imagining so much mayhem happening around "Tradmouth" I'd take my chances. The likelihood I'd own one of the beauties in the photo - a brightly painted, cheery house on the water - are all but nil but even a 'umble cottage a couple of miles away would do quite nicely. So long as the police detectives are as sharp as Wesley Peterson & Co., which I'm positive they are.
Armada Boy revolves around the reunion of American D-Day troops come back to England to honor the area they used as a training ground in preparation for that awful day. The conflict of emotions is well-represented, by both the Americans and the Brits. The Americans did bring in the decisive military might, but both sides suffered losses.
One of the American veterans is murdered very early in the book, while visiting the ruins of a church where he and his young English girlfriend of so long ago met and did what couples in love so often did in times of war, when life offered no guarantees and no promise of a future. (Nudge nudge, wink, wink.) Speculation as to the killer runs rampant, even more so when the widow finds the whole thing a bore, caring nothing about her husband's death, not even how or why he met his end. And it so happens she's been having an affair with one of the other veterans. Motivation enough for getting rid of a useless husband? Perhaps. Or not.
Was it a local person who did the deed, perhaps someone with a score to settle from so many decades ago? Or was it one of the rough young men recently arrived from London, intent on burgling and other rotten acts? So many suspects, so many reasons the man could have been murdered. And why was a rat found stabbed, lying by his side? Why was his money still in his pocket, the only thing missing his silver lighter?
Curiouser and curiouser.
Tradmouth also happened to be the site where a ship from the Spanish Armada ran aground four hundred years before, spilling its crew right into enemy hands.The "Armada boy" from the title was a young Spanish man accused of raping a local girl, subsequently murdered and refused burial within the confines of the church. But was he guilty? And who did it?
Ellis is a devious one. She throws out clues all over the place, some genuine and some red herrings. There are sub-plots nearly as interesting as the main: the relationships between the officers and their co-workers, local sniping and general smallish town life, and the marriage of Wesley Peterson and his pregnant wife. Oh, and that archaeologist friend of Wesley's, the one who always manages to dig up something with a history related to the current murder...
Okay, so that part's highly unlikely. Not that there aren't loads of mysteries to be found buried in the English countryside. It's less believable contemporary England has so many murders, come to think of it. This is a town in Devon, for goodness sake, not Chicago...
But suspened disbelief enough to get past what I consider a "small glitch" and these are so much fun to read, so satisfying. There are better mysteries. Alright, I'll come out and say it. But these are just such a fine mix of history and the contemporary, so entertaining to read without inducing brain rot.
I don't consider myself a person with "guilty pleasures" in my reading but I turn to these books when I'm decompressing from long, busy days. Nothing to be ashamed of. Perhaps the history isn't 100% accurate - which flies in the face of everything I say about why I dislike historical fiction, for this same reason... I KNOW - but it is based on fact. The stomach-churning truth is American troops suffered heavy losses during these rehearsals. It's so horrendous I don't even want to talk about it. The link suffices if you'd like to know more.
As for the Armada, a ship did run aground in France, though I'm not sure about England. My historical diggery stopped at that point. So there is real stuff here, mixed in with the fiction. It's all a bit short on the archaeology itself, which is disappointing to me. Otherwise I'm enthralled.
I believe there are 17 books in the series, so at this rate I should easily finish before the end of the year. The next one's in the works, I understand. Long may you write, Kate Ellis!
Upcoming history of the Spanish Armada:
Publication Date: April 11, 2013