The Crime Readers' Association

Spooky fifteen-inch robot provides inspiration for Kate Ellis

2nd September 2018

Every book begins with a flash of inspiration, something that triggers an idea and starts a plot flowing. The initial idea for The Mechanical Devil was a newspaper article about a sixteenth century robot that was leaving its usual home at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC to go on display at the Science Museum in London.

Alongside the article was a photograph of a small figure, just fifteen inches high, made of wood and iron and dressed in the robes of a friar. It had been made on the orders of King Philip II of Spain (of Armada fame) and, once wound up, the ‘little friar’ as it was known walked forward moving its lips in prayer and raising and lowering its arms. Its purpose was to ‘pray’ for Philip’s son, Don Carlos (the subject of Verdi’s famous opera), who had suffered a life-threatening fall.

The ‘little friar’s’ painted wooden face, with its hooked nose and articulated mouth, reminded me of one of those creepy ventriloquists’ dummies in horror films that take on a life of their own. Although designed to provide comfort, I felt there was something distinctly evil about it and this impression stayed with me as I was writing The Mechanical Devil.

The story begins when a small lead coffin is found by workmen digging up a road near a medieval church on Dartmoor; a coffin that turns out to contain a small robot (not unlike King Philip’s). But what is it doing buried in an isolated Dartmoor village? And could this strange find be linked to a manor house destroyed by fire during the reign of King Henry VIII; a house that once stood in the very field where two strangers have just been found dead, possibly the victims of a professional killer?

The Mechanical Devil is one of Wesley Peterson’s most baffling cases yet and things turn very dark when the investigation puts the lives of those close to him under threat. I do hope my readers enjoy it – and that they don’t have nightmares about fifteen-inch-high robots taking over the world!


Find out more about Kate’s books here.


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