It is dark in the woods: two naked teenagers, pleasurably scared, are running as if for their lives. They can hear hounds baying, getting closer. Suddenly they hear a sound close behind. They turn. A bright light dazzles them. Two shots ring out. They fall...
How's that for a start?
The main theme of this cunningly woven story is that of the Manhunt. Originally played on line, it has come out into reality. It belongs to the past as well: in the early eighteenth century, John Tandy, "jester" to wicked
Squire Henry Catton, arranges manhunts for his master where the quarry is chased by men on horses, and more often than not is killed. In this period a mysterious foreign woman appears and captivates the Squire. Although she appears to be irrelevant she does play her part.
On a different level we meet a weird artist, Kevin Orford, who, sixteen years earlier, had created a picnic, or Feast of Life, at which the remains of the picnic had been buried in trench, with a view to creating an art installation when excavated by an archaeologist, using only hand tools.
Now, back to the present.
The police, in the persons of DCI Gerry Heffernan and DI Wesley Peterson, are summoned to inspect the body of a woman who appears to have been dead for a fortnight. Her face has been bashed, so identification a problem.
Now the narrative focuses mostly on the police activities. The teenagers are identified, the girl being cousin of one of the police constables. The dead woman is identified as Tessa Trencham, owner of the house where she was found; but she had been seen after the apparent time of death. At the "dig" a set of bones has been found on top of the picnic remains. Were they old or recent? The mysterious lady of long ago disappeared as mysteriously as she had arrived. Sixteen years ago Daniel, young lover of Richard Catton the present day Squire, also disappeared. Two unidentified bodies, then whose is the one in the picnic trench? All the elements and characters are cunningly interwoven, and their disentangling makes a fast-moving, intriguing story, with surprises, especially an entirely unexpected one at the end.
I hope this discursive introduction hasn't put you off, but has whetted your appetite for a truly enthralling experience. Kate Elis has written many books about her black policeman Wesley Peterson. If they are all as good as this I salute her.