The Flesh Tailor is the latest in Kate Ellis’s terrific series of police procedurals. I’ve been reading this series since the first book, The Merchant’s House, was published in 1998. I love the mix of history, archaeology & mystery that is such a feature of the books. The books are set in Tradmouth, a coastal town in Southern England. D I Wes Peterson & DCI Gerry Heffernan are a great team. Wes is a young man from a medical family. He’s the odd one out, a policeman instead of a doctor. He’s married to Pam, a teacher, & they have two young children. Gerry is older, widowed with grown-up children but recently Joyce, his “lady friend”, has come into his life. Gerry’s Liverpudlian good humour, lack of computer skills & enthusiastic temper contrast well with Wesley’s calm, organized manner.
Wes studied archaeology at university & his friend, Neil Watson, is now working for the County Archaeology Department. So, when skeletal remains are found at Tailors Court during renovations, Neil is called in to investigate. The first three skeletons seem to be hundreds of years old so they’re Neil’s rather than Wesley’s problem. But, when the next skeleton proves to be that of a child buried with a 1930s coin, Wesley investigates. Tailors Court was a farm during the war & several children were evacuated there. Was there a connection between the evacuees & the child’s remains? And why do all the skeletons have cuts on them? Cuts that, according to the pathologist, look like an amateur’s attempt at dissection?
Wes & Gerry are also investigating the murder of a local GP, James Dalcott. He was shot at point blank range at his front door. Dalcott worked with Wesley’s sister, Maritia, & was well-liked. But, there are several people with motives. A young couple blame him when their son dies of undiagnosed meningitis. James’s soon to be ex-wife, Roz, also had a motive. She left him for another man & she’s now pregnant. Had James told her that he was about to change his will, disinheriting her? Then there’s Dalcott’s work at the secretive private clinic where drug trials sometimes go horribly wrong. Ellis has come up with an incredibly complicated plot with strands going right back to the sixteenth century. Tailors Court was then known as Flesh Tailor’s Court & the sinister Simon Garchard dissected dead bodies in the attic. There are some truly creepy descriptions of Neil’s investigations in the attic, left untouched for many years, & the gruesome drawings he finds behind the panelling in one of the rooms.
The Flesh Tailor is a very atmospheric, creepy novel. I’m always fascinated by the clever way Ellis combines the historical & modern strands of her plot without flashbacks or dual narratives. This time, each chapter is headed by a section of a transcript of the memories of Mabel Cleary who had been one of the child evacuees. Wes & Gerry’s investigations take them back to wartime Devon, the 1950s & the present day. If you enjoy British police procedurals with a historical theme, this is a wonderful series.