Note: Spoilers for previous books in this series.
The seventh book in the Ruth Galloway Mystery Series begins two years after the previous book. In the first six books, we met Ruth Galloway, now 45, 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.
Ruth is called upon again when a plane from World War II, complete with a body inside of an American airman, is found during the course of site development for luxury condos. [In real life, thirty-seven airfields were located in Norfolk during World War II, plus a number of decoy “ghost fields.”] Although an American airbase was located in the area, Ruth doesn’t think this particular downing was just an accident; the body of this man has a bullet hole in the middle of his forehead.
The body is identified as Frederick Blackstock, who originally came from “a “posh Norfolk family,” descendants of whom still occupy their ancestral property on the edge of the saltmarsh. An inquiry reveals that Fred Blackstock did indeed go down in a plane in World War II, but not the plane in which his body was just found.
In the course of investigating what might have actually happened to Fred Blackstock, the team discovers that some members of the family are opposed to the sale of the land for site development; could they be behind this odd discovery?
Ruth is also occupied with getting her daughter Kate off to school for the first time and learning how to be a “school mom.” Kate, the daughter Ruth had with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, is now turning five. Harry’s wife Michelle allows Harry to see Kate but insists that Harry only see Ruth in a professional capacity. Ruth has had several relationships since Nelson, and is now seeing the American Frank Barker again. While Nelson resents it, he elected to stay with his wife Michelle. Nevertheless, he feels jealous:
“He wants Ruth and Katie for himself, waiting for him in that little house on the edge of the marshes. Be he does at least acknowledge that he has no right to think this way.”
Members of Nelson’s crime team are also recurring characters, and we learn that Judy, one of Nelson’s detective sergeants, is heavily pregnant with her second child by Cathbad (Ruth’s good friend and Kate’s godfather). Dave Clough and Tim Heathfield are also in relationships. All of them are juggling the demands of their professional duties with the needs of their private lives.
Two of the characters encounter life-threatening dangers in this story as they close in on what happened in that field, and one of them almost dies. It causes all of the characters to take a new look at how they really feel about one another.
Evaluation: I really like this series, with its well-drawn characters who seem very much like real people. Both Nelson and Ruth have wonderfully wry senses of humor. I also love that one comes away from these books learning a great deal more than how to commit a murder. In this story, we learn both about the “ghost fields” of World War II, and the earlier “ghost fields” that Ruth is exploring in her ongoing digs at a 4,000 year-old Bronze Age site in the area.
Published in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015