Note: Spoilers for previous books in this series.
This is the ninth book in the Ruth Galloway Mystery Series. Ruth Galloway, now 46, is a self-described overweight forensic archeologist at the (fictional) University of North Norfolk, who occasionally works with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, 48, of the Norfolk Police. The two teamed up to solve several crimes since Ruth is an expert on bones, and she became seconded to the Serious Crime Unit, which is headed by Nelson.
Nelson works at the King’s Lynn Police Station. King’s Lynn is a seaport in Norfolk, England and Norwich is a town in Norfolk. During the 11th century, Norwich was the largest city in England after London, and one of its most important. Griffiths integrates many interesting historical aspects of this region into her story lines.
In this book, Griffiths features the famous chalk pits of Norwich. Beginning in the Middle Ages, Norwich was mined for chalk and flint, and today many of the mines still exist under the city. These tunnels can cause instability when construction cuts into them, and occasionally holes open up in the city. Famously, a large red bus fell into a hole in Earlham Road in 1988, and in this book, the residents often refer to that event. Tales have proliferated about secret tunnels and possible uses to which they have been put.
As this story begins, excavation for an underground restaurant has opened up one of these tunnels, and bones have been found in it. Ruth is called in, and Harry as well after analysis shows the bones not to be medieval but recent.
Ruth and Harry share a daughter, Kate, 6. Harry’s wife Michelle allows Harry to see Kate but insists that Harry only see Ruth in a professional capacity. But because there are always bones being dug up in the Norwich area, their liaisons occur rather frequently, although not as often as either of them would like (even if neither will admit it to themselves).
Members of Nelson’s crime team are also recurring characters, and in this story Judy Johnson, one of Nelson’s detective sergeants, plays a large role, as does her partner David (Cloughie) Clough. All of the characters have to juggle the demands of their professional duties with the needs of their private lives, especially because of the young children involved.
This story also focuses on the homeless people of the area, called “rough sleepers.” One of them has gone missing, and a couple of others soon turn up stabbed in the heart. The detectives speculate that there could be some relationship between these occurrences and rumors of an underground refuge for homeless people in the old chalk mines. But none of the rough sleepers want to talk about it, because when they do, they end up dead.
The book ends with a build-up of tension as the danger increases for those getting close to the truth. In addition, there are a couple of surprising cliff-hanger type developments in the characters’ personal lives. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
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.
Published in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017