Note: Spoilers for previous books in this series.
This twelfth book in the Ruth Galloway crime series will not disappoint its fans.
Ruth Galloway was formerly a forensic archeologist at the (fictional) University of North Norfolk. There she occasionally worked with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson of the Norfolk Police. Since Ruth is an expert on bones, the two teamed up to solve a number of crimes, and Ruth was even 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.
Harry is married with two adult daughters (Laura and Rebecca), but Ruth and Harry share a daughter, Kate, now 9. Harry and his wife Michelle had another (unexpected) baby a little more than two years before, a boy named George, and all four of the children are fond of one another. Michelle allows Harry to see Kate but insists that Harry only see Ruth in a professional capacity.
As this book begins, we learn that for the past two years, Ruth and Kate have been residing in Cambridge, where Ruth took a position teaching forensic archaeology at St. Jude’s College. She and Kate are living with Frank Barker, an American historian and television personality.
Although no longer in close proximity, Ruth and Nelson still share unsuccessful attempts not to think about one another. In this book, moreover, Ruth is called back to Norfolk by the police because a man accused of a number of murders of young women will talk to no one but Ruth about where the bodies are buried. The man, Ivor March, was recently convicted of two of the murders of missing women, but Nelson is convinced he killed more, and would like to help bring closure to the families of the victims.
March used to be part of a group of three men calling themselves “The Lantern Men” after an old legend in the area that told of mysterious figures carrying lanterns who haunted the fens and marshes and lured travelers to their dooms. The legend presumably came from spontaneous combustion of marsh gas which occurs on warm nights in rotten swamps and bogs. In the distant past people thought these represented evil spirits waiting to lure lone night travelers to their deaths. The popular practice of creating jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween is derived in part from this legend.
This contemporary group of “Lantern Men” admitted that they used to drive around in a van and pick up young women, but they claimed they were only “helping” lost girls. They would bring the girls back to their art commune at Grey Walls, now a writer’s retreat, and teach them “about art and life and all that.” After a while the women would “just vanish,” presumably, according to the Lantern Men, off to lead more fulfilling lives. By remarkable coincidence, some of those “helped” by the Lantern Men are also on the list of missing and dead women.
The women who were a permanent part of the Grey Walls commune seem fiercely devoted to March and insist he could not have murdered anyone. The police are convinced otherwise. But then another similar murder occurs with March already in prison and no one is so sure anymore. And Ruth, because of her involvement in the case, once more gets in a life-threatening position.
Evaluation: I enjoy this series a great deal because the main characters are all complex, likable and funny. Yet there is still plenty of page-turning tension and a lot to learn about archeology and history in the Norfolk area. In this book there are also developments in the characters’ personal lives that will have readers champing at the bit for the next installment.
Published in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020