Mystery Review by CJ Verburg: Kate Ellis’s “The Merchant’s House,” Wesley Peterson #1

The Merchant's House (Wesley Peterson, #1)The Merchant’s House by Kate Ellis

A well-constructed traditional mystery / police procedural whose possibilities were stronger than its execution. What I liked: a black detective (Wesley Peterson) whose competence, not race, is focal. He’s smart, educated, kind, and his background in archeology opens the door to an intriguing double plot. Also a strong female sidekick who doesn’t instantly become a romantic interest. A non-cozy English village setting; and police who aren’t enemies to each other or the community. All welcome subversions of the standard crime-novel cliches! I especially enjoyed the historical info that came with the 16th-century subplot.

What I didn’t like: the characters aren’t fleshed out enough to have distinct voices or personalities — I had trouble remembering who was who. That includes Wesley Peterson. And the supposed excerpts from a 16th-c. diary which open each chapter sounded gratingly inauthentic — as if the author had learned just enough about period speech to throw “doth” in front of her verbs for present tense and “did” for past. For me that epitomized my general impression of a paint-by-numbers “first in a series” mystery that includes all the right ingredients, but didn’t put them together convincingly enough to make me want to read another one.

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