Note: Spoilers for previous books in this series
The fifth book in the Ruth Galloway Mystery Series begins two years after the series began. In the first three books, we met Ruth Galloway, now 42, who is a self-described overweight forensic archeologist at the (fictional) University of North Norfolk, and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson of the Norfolk Police. The two teamed up to solve several crimes since Ruth is an expert on bones, and now Ruth is seconded to the Serious Crime Unit, which is headed by Nelson.
As this book begins, Ruth receives word that an old friend from her university days, Dan Golding, has died in a fire. Coincidentally, the next day she received a letter from him. He wrote that he believed he had found “The Raven King” in an archeological dig, and wanted her to come give a second opinion on the bones. But he also said there is something making him very frightened. She wonders if he was murdered, and calls Nelson to ask if he has any police contacts up in Lancashire, the area where Nelson used to live and work. He agrees to contact his old police mate Sandy Macleod, the DCI at Blackpool CID, and let her know. Thinking about Sandy causes Nelson to suggest to Michelle that they take their vacation in Blackpool, where they can also visit their parents.
Meanwhile, Ruth receives a call from Clayton Henry, Dan’s boss at (fictional) Pendle University, who asks Ruth to come look at the bones discovered by Dan. The university needs funds, and Clayton is hoping the discovery will be lucrative. It certainly might well be; King Arthur was sometimes known as the Raven King.
Ruth makes her way to Lytham, a small town in the area, along with her 18-month-old daughter Kate and her friend Cathbad, godfather to Kate, who is coming along to babysit.
It turns out Dan was indeed the victim of foul play, and there are plenty of likely suspects, including members of a shadowy group called The White Hand, a sub-sect of white supremacist groups obsessed with King Arthur. Perhaps Dan, who was Jewish, was a victim of this group.
The story lines converge as Ruth tries to ascertain (1) were these actually the bones of someone who could have been King Arthur? (2) why was Dan afraid? (3) why would someone kill him? and (4) why is Ruth receiving threatening texts to stay away from the bones? As both Nelson and Ruth get closer to answers, the tension increases, as does the danger to Ruth.
Underlying this story is the ongoing evolution of the relationships between Ruth and Nelson (who is married to Michelle), and Cathbad and one of Nelson’s detectives, Judy, who is now married to Darren.
Evaluation: This is a very appealing series, with well-drawn fascinating characters who seem very much like real people. I also love that one comes away from these books learning a great deal more than how to commit a murder. Although King Arthur’s existence has been disputed, he is still very much “alive” to the people of England, Scotland, Cornwall, and Wales. The author shares some of the background of the mythology surrounding Arthur in this book.
Published in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013