The Cadaver Game, the latest Wesley Peterson murder mystery from Kate Ellis, is the 15th in a series that continues to go from strength to strength. When you bear in mind that she has also written three books featuring Joe Plantagenet, and one stand-alone history-mystery, as well as many short stories, it’s fair to say that Kate’s become extremely prolific. Certainly, her productivity in recent years puts me to shame. There’s always a danger that, when you write a great deal at speed, quality will suffer – but I’m pleased to say that there is absolutely no sign of this in The Cadaver Game. I was sure I’d enjoy it, as Kate is not only a friend but a writer whose way with a plot I’ve long admired, but I was especially entertained by some of the concepts in this particular story.
In broad terms, the story is structured in the same way as its predecessors. A crime from the past, with an archaeological connection, is linked with a murder puzzle in the present. Upon that solid structure, Kate has built a complicated and absorbing puzzle, with many interesting features and a plentiful supply of twists and red herrings.
The central idea is of a hunt with a difference – the hunted are real life people, running naked from their pursuers. It happened in the past, and now it is happening in the present. A young couple are shot to death by an unknown hunter at the start of the book, but the question of what happened to them is not the only mystery that Wesley has to solve. A woman’s body is found, and there is some mystery about her identity. Meanwhile, extracts from two old journals reveal the macabre machinations of a rich man’s jester at around the time of Waterloo.
A large cast of characters is manipulated with unobtrusive expertise – no easy task. I thought the concept of the game, in both the past and the present, was utterly gripping, and certainly very dark. Equally, I was fascinated by the story of Silly John, the jester. And finally, I have to admit, I couldn’t figure out the murderer. My only complaint is that I too had the idea of a book title including the word “cadaver” (at one point The Serpent Pool was going to be called The Cadaver Tarn, but then I decided to save the latter title for a rainy day – that day may be a few years off now!) Great minds, I guess! Suffice to say, this book is definitely recommended for whodunit fans.