Book Review


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The Stone Circle, by Elly Griffiths

This is the eleventh book in the Ruth Galloway series; a series which was originally intended to encompass ten books so, taking a charitable approach, one has to assume that the series has been so successful that an extension was appropriate; I have no reason to decry this decision because, although I haven’t read the whole series [depending entirely upon those which are available from my local library], I have thoroughly enjoyed the ones I have read hitherto, and have come to look forward to reading more exploits of the regular characters who are mainly (although not always entirely) likeable. Elly Griffiths is interesting to me as an author, because she reverses the normal authorial convention: this is actually a nom de plume, presumably chosen [although see below] to appear to be quite British [or Welsh, to be specific] and consequently instantly acceptable to the majority of British readers, whereas her birth name is Domenica de Rosa [Italian for Sunday of the rose] which, although born in this country, she acquired from her Italian father. After writing four novels featuring Italy [write about what you know!] a holiday in Norfolk with her archaeologist husband inspired her to write the first of the Ruth Galloway series; her agent, who saw the potential in it but recognised that it was a crime novel, in contrast to the earlier ones, recommended that she needed a crime name appropriate to the genre, and hence she became Elly Griffiths!

This story does have certain overlaps with previous stories, but that isn’t to imply that it is merely a cynical rehash: quite the opposite, it demonstrates continuity and in some ways, there are advantages, because it can be seen how characters respond to new situations with the benefit of their experience from these earlier situations; and Ruth’s work does have a certain repetitive quality about it. Archaeology expert Ruth Galloway is investigating a burial pit in a henge on the Norfolk coast, close to another one she worked on previously, during which she came into contact with two of the series’s main characters: an endearing (but occasionally also irritating, in equal measure) man who goes by the name of Cathbad, although his birth name is Michael Malone, and he regards himself as a druid, but latterly he seems to have embraced a somewhat more conventional lifestyle with his current partner, a police Detective Sergeant called Judy Johnson; and the father of Ruth’s daughter, Kate, Harry Nelson, a Detective Chief Inspector and Judy’s boss. He is married with two adult daughters, and feels somewhat trapped in this marriage, notwithstanding that he also loves his wife, who is pregnant again at the beginning of the story, & daughters, and his work (somewhat conveniently, it has to be said) regularly brings him into contact with Ruth; he does willingly, and with no complaint from Ruth, visit Kate (whom he insists on calling Katie, much to Ruth’s annoyance), so this doesn’t greatly help Ruth romantically, although she does also enjoy her own space, and there is currently another male suitor in the equation, a visiting Historical Consultant from America, who has been brought in to work as a presenter on a television documentary which also features Ruth.

In the course of Ruth’s digging, the skeleton of a child is found nearby, and there is sufficient evidence that this skeleton is relatively recent, compared to the first remains found by Ruth, so Nelson’s team becomes involved. There is a real concern that the skeleton could be that of a 12-year old young girl, Margaret Lacey, who went missing thirty years ago, so it is important for the family that this can be confirmed, which it is, to give them closure, but also, ideally, to identify the perpetrator. There was a suspect at the time, a young man of obviously limited intellectual capabilities who lived with his mother, but whose alibi, from his mother, was unassailable, so he remained at liberty, albeit grudgingly by the contemporary investigating officers. All of the victim’s family are reinvestigated, and in the course of the story, the baby daughter (Ava) of one of the dead girl’s relatives, Star (Stella by birth) is abducted, almost immediately after another baby is abducted locally, but returned safely within a matter of days; the mother & missing baby are known to Nelson’s wife, Michelle, who is attending the same mother & baby classes, and she dismisses the notion that Star might have engineered this as a way of seeking attention. This is also a very emotive situation for Judy Johnson, whose own son, Michael, was abducted in a previous story (hence the aforementioned overlap), and that was the catalyst for Judy to acknowledge that she preferred Cathbad, Michael’s father, to her erstwhile husband, Darren.

To reveal any more of the plot would be to spoil it, but the original, somewhat unexpected, perpetrator is identified, although not before one of the characters is murdered, and this dénouement is not revealed until right at the end of the story. Otherwise, there is ample scope for continuance of the main characters’ lives, so as I have already said, I am very willing to read a further instalment, plus any previous, necessarily out-of-sequence unread ones I can obtain, and I can thoroughly recommend this series of stories. There are biographies for the main characters at the end of the book, which is a nice little addition, and some of the books [although not this version] also include a potted autobiography, hence the synopsised version above, which I found at the back of another story I still had in my possession. The hardback I read was published in in 2019, by Quercus Editions Ltd., London, ISBN 978 1 78648 729 2; there is also a paperback, an eBook, and an audio book version.

Book Review


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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.