The police are sceptical when Debby Telerhaye reports finding a dead body on her way home from a drunken night out, especially given her troubled past. But Detective Inspector Joe Plantagenet isn’t so quick to dismiss the teenager, and soon enough the body of a young actress is found, brutally murdered. Is her death linked to her starring role in a controversial play? Or is it much more sinister than that? Could it be that she suffered the same fate as a sinful nun centuries earlier?
The story opens with Debby stumbling through the fog, convinced she is being followed by a malevolent character and, taking shelter in the ruins of an abandoned abbey, she sees what she thinks is a bundle of rags… Immediately my heart was in my mouth: I was hooked. The captivating narrative is complimented by a number of equally interesting sub-plots: Debby’s missing brother; her malevolent step-father; Joe’s relationship with his estranged girlfriend and the guilt he still feels from his wife’s death. Kate Ellis has knitted them all together so artfully that none felt overbearing or detracted in any way from the main storyline.
The menacing pace never surrendered and yet somehow Ellis managed to build, in Joe Plantagenet, a thoughtful, dignified detective with such complexity in his history that I’m doubtful any reader will ever truly understand him. He put me in mind of Lewis’s Sergeant Hathaway, and not just because of his abandoned career in the priesthood. The contrast between Joe and his DCI, Emily Thwaite, who is an extremely grounded married mother of three, made for an interesting interplay and I am keen to see how their relationship develops in coming books.
Overall, this is a brilliant mystery story that seamlessly draws in elements of history and religion. A walled city enveloped in fog, ghostly apparitions and a disappearing corpse – what more could we really ask for?