Review of The Mermaid’s Scream – 4 Stars

The Mermaid’s Scream by Kate Ellis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Premise: This is book 21 in the DI Wesley Peterson Crime Series. This story centres around the mysterious figure of Wynn Staniland, an enigma of the literary world. After his wife’s unusual death Wynn stopped producing novels and retreated from the literary limelight, now many years later a biographer set to publish Wynn’s story disappears. Bodies begin to stack up in the area with their only commonality being a connection to Staniland.

In the historical timeline, Neil Watson of the County Archaeological Unit is dealing with his own mystery, the death of Mary Field and a gruesome retelling of her story from the nineteenth century which fascinated Victorian taste for grim tales.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

Wesley recognised the object in her hand as a driving license.
‘Maybe he found it.’
‘There was money too.’
‘How much?’
‘Thirty pounds. I know he didn’t have that much. Look at the name on the licence: Zac Wilkinson. I went to that talk he gave last week. Remember? Didn’t you say he was missing?’
Wesley caught his breath as she handed him the license. The picture stared out at him. Wynn Staniland’s biographer; the man who’d failed to turn up at Neston Library.
‘I’d better have a word with Michael.’

Viewpoint: The story regularly changes perspectives from a host of characters and includes diary extracts from the nineteenth century. This makes the story feel fresh and fast-paced even during the more police procedural sections when the police are frustrated with a lack of progress/delays.

Character(s): Using the multi-viewpoint approach also allows the author to introduce us to a great breadth of characters. Some bringing more to the novel than others. There is a sub-story to this of a son navigating trials of being a teenager, a story of a long-lost daughter and the story of a sick wife. All these threads are woven together with great skill without too much distraction from the main plot.

Setting: This novel is mainly set in the region of Tradmouth which is, of course, loosely based on Dartmouth. This setting with small towns and remote locations really compliments the community feel of the novel but also highlights the isolation of the rural communities.

Any Negatives: I love this series, it’s one of my favourites. The author has such a talent for drawing me in quickly so that I am eager to turn the page. With this novel, there were a few things holding me back from going for the full five stars. The first was the random entries of Delia, the mother-in-law. I really don’t think it added anything to the main story or even contributed to the daughter’s cancer storyline. It may be the author setting the series up for a future book, but it didn’t seem to work for me in this book.

The main reason I didn’t give that 5 star is how the standalone book works. I appreciate it is incredibly difficult for any author to balance a book as both a series entry and a standalone and normally I haven’t noticed this as an issue at all. It’s been a number of years since I read the previous novels in this series and I was really struggling to recall details of past relationships etc. The author gave small snippets of info but it wasn’t really enough to clarify things for me e.g. Neil’s girlfriend is working away, Gerry’s relationship with Joyce, Gerry’s daughter Rosie is often spoken of as highly sensitive etc. I just felt like a little more detail or backstory to these would have helped this work better as a standalone, or for those of us whose memories are not as they once were – haha.

Overall View: As always a brilliant book by Kate Ellis. She is a truly fantastic writer. A great array of characters. A lot of fast-paced action. The fascinating historical aspects still pull me in and are so intriguing, I love how she intertwines these with the modern storyline.

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Extract from The Mermaid’s Scream

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