The Indelible Stain by Wendy Percival

I read Wendy Percival's first novel Blood-Tied at the start of the year and enjoyed the combination of mystery story and family history. The author writes a fascinating family history blog and I've enjoyed reading the stories of her ancestors. Blood-Tied introduces Esme Quentin, a successful researcher and family historian, who puts her skills to good use to find out the secrets of her sister's past. The Indelible Stain is the second Esme Quentin mystery and I've enjoyed reading it even more than the first.

In this new novel (released on September 26th 2014) Esme goes to Devon on a working holiday to assist with sorting out and organising the archives of a local charity. In a dramatic opening chapter, Esme discovers an almost lifeless body on the beach and the mystery begins as Esme listens to the stranger's dying words and finds an old photograph nearby. The dead woman is soon identified as Bella Shaw but the local police consider the death to have been accidental and Esme's concerns arouse little interest. After Esme has met Bella's daughter, Neave, her suspicions are confirmed and she is soon pursuing leads and trying to make sense of the course of events.

The author has made good use of her own knowledge of family history and research methods to devise a clever and well-constructed plot full of unexpected twists and turns. The reader quickly gets a good idea of where the plot is going and who has been the likely wrong-doer until the author changes direction, confounds the reader and forces a re-appraisal again, and again, and again.

The plot gets added complexity from the genealogical mystery that is integral to the main story-line but is a fascinating, stand-alone tale in itself. Meticulously researched, the story of Sarah Baker, convicted of theft and transported to Australia in 1837, gives the novel an enthralling extra dimension. As the novel unfolds over a hundred years of family history are revealed and Bella's is not the only suspicious ending.

Right until the final pages the reader is guessing who is responsible for Bella's death and all the associated misdemeanours. A strong cast support Esme in pursuit of the truth including childhood friends and various locals ranging from the eccentric to the corrupt and back to the genuinely good-hearted. However, this is pre-dominantly Esme's story. She is an unconventional sleuth whose qualities of tenacity, persistence and resilience are as essential for her day-job as they are for crime solving. She is a determined seeker of the truth which combined with her kindliness and concern for others makes her an attractive and appealing detective.

The Indelible Stain is a highly readable, well written and engaging novel which keeps the reader guessing right to the end. It is the second Esme Quentin mystery and I certainly hope it won't be the last. Highly recommended.

Check out the author's website for links to the book or sample and download in the Amazon Kindle Store.