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
From Publishers Weekly
When American WWII veteran Norman Openheim gets stabbed to death while visiting a ruined chapel late one night outside Bereton, England, Det. Sergeant Wesley Peterson has no lack of leads in this absorbing police procedural. First on the suspect list is Norman's wife, Dorinda. It's no secret that she's been having an affair with another man among the group of U.S. army veterans and their wives who've traveled to the south coast of England for a reunion. Norman himself, it turns out, left behind a pregnant girlfriend and possibly some resentment in 1944. As Peterson and his colleagues delve ever deeper into the past, they learn that another reunion group member, Litton Boratski, was accused of raping a local girl, but U.S. authorities squelched the investigation shortly before D-Day. And what is the truth behind the tale of an American soldier shooting dead an Englishman caught rabbit-hunting in an off-limits area? Guidebook extracts that head each chapter give the sad history of shipwreck survivors from the Spanish Armada, who formed another kind of invading army in 1588. The murder of a young Spanish sailor, buried in the Bereton chapel, tragically parallels criminal events centuries later. Though this is only her second novel (after Wesley Peterson's debut in The Merchant's House), Ellis unfolds an intricate yarn of misdirected revenge with all the assurance of a seasoned veteran of the genre. (July)
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