The Armada Boy

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9780749936983: The Armada Boy

An American veteran of the D-Day landings on a sentimental journey with his old unit to their base is the last body archaeologist Neil Watson expects to find in the ruins of an old chapel. Neil turns to his old friend from student days, Detective Sergeant Wesley Peterson, for help. Ironically, both men are looking at an invading force—Wesley the World War II American veterans, and Neil a group of shipwrecked Spaniards reputed to have met a sticky end at the hands of outraged locals as they limped from the wreckage of the great Armada in 1588. Local memories prove retentive and Wesley is soon caught up in 50 year-old accusations, resentments, and romances. Wesley's case grows more perplexing, while Neil uncovers a tragic story from the distant past. More than 400 years apart, two strangers in a strange land have died violently. Wesley is running out of time to find out why.

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Review:

Fifty years after D Day, a group of American veterans has returned to the small Devonshire town of Bereton where, in 1944, they prepared for Normandy, amazed the local children with gifts of candy and comics, and courted the local maidens. When one of the old soldiers, Norman Openheim, is found stabbed to death in the ruins of the same chapel where the GIs and the village girls once held their wartime trysts, Detective Sergeant Wesley Peterson finds his investigative attention torn between the past and the present. There is no shortage of suspects. Dorinda, Openheim's widow, is acting anything but bereaved in the company of tall, handsome Todd Weringer; a trio of post-adolescent urban urchins (Dog, Rat, and Snot) has been harassing the local merchants at knifepoint; and Norman's romance of 50 years ago produced a son with a criminal record and, just maybe, a lifetime of resentment built up against the father he never knew. More intriguing to Peterson and archaeologist Neil Watson are the parallels that exist between this murder and the murder of a sailor from the Spanish Armada in 1588. Hatred, jealousy, and revenge have cast 400-year-old shadows, and Peterson must untangle a skein of accusations, resentments, and family alliances that stretch back through the centuries.

Kate Ellis's The Merchant's House, with its blend of history and detection, moved beyond the familiar territory of the British cozy. Unfortunately, The Armada Boy falls well short: dull characters and no sense of plot cripple it from the start. One can't help but feel cheated when the solution to the murder is, literally, handed to the detectives (in the form of an ancient letter), breaking all the rules of mystery fiction. But Ellis's prose style is engagingly straightforward and sometimes lively, with an occasional dose of gentle humor. Her dialogue, though, leaves much to be desired. For the most part, her Devonshire locals sound like an unholy hybrid of BBC announcer and London beggar. Even more jarring are her Americans, who might have been plucked straight from an Agatha Christie novel: they "guess," they "reckon," and they greet novelties with: "Say, that's a mighty fine idea!" Perhaps in her next outing, Ellis's contemporary characters will receive the same attention to detail as their historical counterparts. --Kelly Flynn

About the Author:

Kate Ellis is the author of the Wesley Peterson Series and has twice been nominated for the Crime Writers’ Association Short Story Dagger.

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