An excavation at the lost gardens of Earlsacre Hall is called to a halt when a skeleton is discovered under a 300 year old stone plinth, a corpse that seems to have been buried alive. But DS Wesley Peterson has little time to indulge in his hobby of archaeology. He has a more recent murder case to solve. A man has been found stabbed to death in a caravan at a popular holiday park and the only clue to his identity is a newspaper cutting about the restoration of Earlsacre. Does local solicitor Brian Willerby have the answer? He seems eager to talk to Wesley but before he can reveal his secret he is found dead during a 'friendly' game of village cricket, apparently struck by a cricket ball several times with some force. If Wesley is looking for a demon bowler this appears to let out most of the village side. But what is it about Earlsacre Hall that leads people to murder?
Once again British author Ellis smoothly blends old and recent crimes in an archeological mystery featuring Det. Sergeant Wesley Peterson and his fellow Tradmouth (Devon) police officers. Detective Constable Rachel Tracey in particular makes a striking return from last year's The Funeral Boat. While clearing the overgrown site of the extensive 17th-century gardens of Earlsacre Hall during a restoration project, diggers find two skeletons, one belonging to a young woman buried alive three centuries earlier. Neil Watson, of the County Archeology Unit, calls Peterson, with whom he studied archeology at university, but Peterson is busy investigating a stabbing murder in a nearby caravan park. Skillfully combining identity theft and blackmail with murder, the author treats the reader to a host of distinctive supporting characters, including the owner of a discreet brothel, its girls and clients, a petty thief, a sex-driven "poetess in residence," a solicitor's litigious neighbor and Peterson's giddy and unconventional mother-in-law. The well-researched historical background (involving the enslavement in the West Indies of rebels against James II) and an unusual murder weapon (a "knocking-in mallet" used on cricket bats) add interest. Anglophiles will drink up the local color and south Devon towns modeled on Dartmouth and Torbay.