The Night Hawks, by Elly Griffiths
This is the latest paperback murder mystery for the forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway character, and it was published when Coronavirus was known about, but the narrative’s start date is September 2019, so it must have been written before Covid was starting to cause real concern. There is a later story, The Locked Room, commencing in February 2020, which should have been published in February this year, but not yet in paperback; from the taster of five short chapters at the end of this book, it is clear that Coronavirus is being taken seriously. At the beginning, Ruth is still single and, after a stint at Cambridge University, back living in her beloved cottage in Norfolk with her now nine-year old daughter Kate, Ruth’s previous lover & putative husband having been gently spurned and returned to his native America. Ruth is now Head of Archaeology, superseding her former boss Phil Trent, and she has engaged a lecturer, David Brown, to work under her, but she is already starting to wonder if he was a good choice, because he seems somewhat arrogant, and she conducts a silent monologue of things she would like to say to him, but prefers to refrain from.
Instead of an ancient body, or the remains of one, the first one to be found this time is very much contemporary, by the eponymous Night Hawks, nocturnal metal detectorists, whom Ruth considers to be a nuisance: “They’re not archaeologists. They’re amateurs who charge around looking for treasure. They’ve no idea how to excavate or how to read the context. They just dive in and dig up whatever looks shiny.” David considers this elitism, however: “Detectorists are valid members of the community and these finds belong to the people.” Ruth’s professional opinion is sought by her daughter’s not-so-secret father, DCI Harry Nelson, but David Brown also invites himself along, much to Ruth’s irritation; his comments about the Night Hawks don’t endear him to her either. It appears that the Night Hawks also found something more attractive, which Nelson categorises as “a lot of old metal”, but Ruth is intrigued, and a superficial excavation reveals a broken spear head, possibly Bronze Age; then part of a skull is found, so David is happy, because he was advocating for a dig for his first year students, but Ruth’s primary concern is that the site should be protected.
At first, the contemporary body, that of a young man, is assumed to be a refugee who drowned in the course of trying to enter the country, but his identification leads the inquiry in an unexpected direction, and before long, there is a second death, so perhaps the first death was murder? Ruth is soon called in to excavate the garden of the isolated Black Dog Farm, where there has been an apparent murder/suicide, and after this, events take a distinctly dangerous turn for her… I have come to really enjoy reading the exploits of these characters, and they always seem somehow more relevant when they are set within the context of current circumstances; also, their lives evolve, they are not preserved in aspic, so they are realistic, whilst still being fictional. The paperback I read was published in 2021 by Quercus Editions Ltd., London, ISBN 978-1-78747-784-1.