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Fallen Into the Pit, Ellis Peters, Mysterious Press, 1951, 246 pp
Oh no! I have discovered a new (to me) mystery writer, as if I weren't already following enough of them. I blame it on My Big Fat Reading Project. It just keeps getting fatter, but better my project than me!
Ellis Peters is a pseudonym of Edith Pargeter, a British author who is best known for her Chronicles of Brother Cadfael historical mystery series. Both that series and her Inspector Felse series are set in Wales. I don't recall reading any mysteries set in Wales before.
In 1963, the author won the Edgar Award for the second book in the Felse series. Being, like my fellow blogger Dorothy, incapable of starting a series anywhere but at the beginning, I had to read Fallen Into the Pit before I read the Edgar winning Death and the Joyful Woman.
In a Welsh mining town just after WWII, a German ex-POW and ex-Nazi, a cruel coward and anti-semite, was found murdered in an area of deserted mine shafts. No one in the village is particularly sad to be rid of the man, who had never fit in there, but it was after all a murder and had to be solved. Because he was universally disliked, anyone could have been the murderer.
Sergeant George Felse must detect the murderer but since his son, 13-year-old Dominic, found the body, the boy keeps butting in on his father's investigation where he is not welcome. And that is not the only unusual aspect of this book.
It took me a good while to get into the story. Ellis Peters had been writing novels under various names since 1936, so I could not blame my reading difficulty on it being a first novel. I think it was partly the setting, not a familiar one to me except for some King Arthur novels. I also found the quite literary style of Ms Ellis's prose a bit daunting.
Eventually I was hooked and it turned out to be a good mystery. It was hard to figure out who the culprit was, the story was filled with fascinating characters and situations, and except for a slight tendency to fall into the pit of lulls in the action, it provided plenty of increasing tension.
One last unusual thing: that the murder victim was allowed to stay in Great Britain instead of being sent back to Germany once the war was over. Though that oddity fit with the time period and added to the tension in the village, I wonder if such a circumstance is historically accurate. Does anyone know?
I now look forward to the next book in the series, Death and the Joyful Woman. What a title.
(Fallen Into the Pit is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. It is also available in eBook form from Open Road at your favorite eBook vendor.)