Note: Spoilers for previous books in this series.
This is the tenth book in the Ruth Galloway mystery series. Ruth Galloway, 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. Since Ruth is an expert on bones, the two teamed up to solve several crimes, and Ruth became seconded to the Serious Crime Unit, which is headed by Nelson.
Nelson works at the King’s Lynn Police Station. In actuality, 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. Thus old bones do in fact get excavated quite frequently. Griffiths integrates many interesting historical aspects of this region into her story lines.
Although Harry is married with two adult daughters (Laura, 24 and Rebecca, 22), 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. Harry’s first daughters do not know about Kate. Nor do they know that Michelle had her own affair, with Tim Healthfield, a detective sergeant who used to be on Nelson’s team but has now moved back to Essex. But Tim and Michelle have been back in touch, and Tim knows Michelle, 46, is pregnant again, and the baby might be his. Nelson has some fear of this himself, even though Michelle told him (dishonestly) that she and Tim “never consummated” their relationship. Time will tell, however, since Tim is black. Before Michelle’s announcement, Nelson had been considering leaving her for Ruth. “But now things were back where they were, only with added tensions.”
Members of Nelson’s crime team are also recurring characters. Judy Johnson, one of Nelson’s detective sergeants, is married to Cathbad, a druid, and a friend of Ruth’s. Judy’s partner David (Cloughie) Clough is getting married as this book begins.
When Ruth returns home from the wedding, she finds a phone message from a fellow archeology professor, Angelo Morelli of the University of Rome. They met years ago at a conference. Angelo asks her to come to Italy and check out some unusual bones he found while digging in the Liri Valley, not far from Rome. He has a place for her to stay, at his late grandfather’s apartment in Castello degli Angeli, in Lazio, and he says she can bring Katie, her BFF Shona, and Shona’s son Louis with her and make it a (working) vacation.
Ruth is enchanted by the beauty of the area and the charming people she meets, such as the local priest, Don Tomaso. At a fair in town square, Don Tomaso encourages Ruth to eat more:
“You must eat,’ says Don Tomaso. ‘You young women are too thin.’ It’s almost enough to make Ruth become a Catholic.”
Meanwhile, back in King’s Lynn, Micky Webb has been released from prison after serving ten years for having his wife and children killed. Nelson is the one who put him away, and Webb swore he would get even with Nelson one day. But now he claims he “got religion” in prison and is a new man.
Nelson goes to check on Micky and his new wife, Louise, an evangelical, who speaks about God “as if he’s God Smith who lives next door.” Nelson warns Micky he is watching him, and Micky swears on his new-found faith and dedication to forgiveness.
At the same time, Nelson finds out from Phil that Ruth and Katie are out of the country and is upset: “Anything could happen to them. To his child. To Ruth.”
When Nelson hears there has been an earthquake in the area where Ruth and Katie are staying and he can’t reach Ruth on the phone, he, along with Cathbad, fly out there to check on them.
Thus they have a bit of a vacation together, although it involves beach time, which makes Ruth feel self-conscious, especially vis-a-vis svelte Shona:
“Pull yourself together, she tells herself, fat is a feminist issue. Just because she doesn’t conform to society’s ideal of what a woman should look like, it doesn’t mean she should feel ashamed, she should celebrate her curves. All the same, she wishes she’d brought a wrap of some kind.”
The author does a nice job showing the contrasting worldviews of Ruth and Nelson. Ironically, at the beach, Nelson looks at Ruth and thinks:
“He’d been surprised by how good Ruth looked in her swimming costume. He’s noticed before that the fewer clothes Ruth wears, the thinner she looks. In the severely cut costume, she looks curvaceous rather than overweight. . . [And as for Shona] ‘The bikini she has on doesn’t look as if it would survive proper swimming anyway. Ruth is wearing a far more sensible costume.’”
Then a murder occurs in the village, and Ruth is the one who finds the body. Both she and Nelson collaborate to find the perpetrator.
Back in King’s Lynn, Nelson’s daughter Laura accompanies her mother for a scan to check on the baby, and it seems as if all is well. But trouble finds them nevertheless, and the tension builds in both countries simultaneously in a frightening denouement.
Evaluation: I really enjoy this series, with its well-drawn characters who seem very much like real people. Both Nelson and Ruth have wonderfully wry senses of humor, much more in evidence in this book than in some of the preceding books. I also love that one comes away from these books learning a great deal more than how to commit a murder. And after each book, I am always left with the feeling that I can’t wait for the next one.
Published in the U.S. by Quercus, 2018