Note: Spoilers for previous books in this series.
This is the thirteenth book in the excellent Ruth Galloway crime series.
Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist, is now head of the archaeology department at the (fictional) University of North Norfolk. Her old boss Phil Trent has retired, and a great deal of the humor in this installment centers around Ruth finding out she is starting to think in the same bureaucratic way she reviled so much in Phil.
Ruth and her daughter Kate, now ten, are back in the isolated cottage on the coast where they lived before Ruth’s two-year stint teaching archeology at Cambridge. Ruth is also once again seconding for the Serious Crime Unit of the Norfolk Police, headed up by Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, who happens to be Kate’s father.
Nelson, now 51, works out of 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 and Ruth have a complicated relationship. Harry is married with two adult daughters (Laura and Rebecca). Harry and his wife Michelle had another (unexpected) baby a little more than two years before, a boy named George. All of Harry’s children are fond of one another. Michelle allows Harry to see Kate but insists that Harry only see Ruth in a professional capacity.
In this book, the relationship between Michelle and Ruth takes a most interesting turn.
The story begins with the discovery of a dead body by the “Night Hawks,” a local group of amateur archeologists, or “metal detectorists,” who, taking advantage of Norfolk’s archaeologically rich landscape, go out at night along the beach to search for Bronze Age artifacts.
This body isn’t the first they find. On a subsequent evening they heard gun shots coming from the Black Dog Farm, reputed to be haunted by a giant spectral dog known as the Black Shuck. The dog, according to local legend, appears to people prior to their deaths. The Night Hawks called the police, who went to the farm and discovered the bodies of Douglas and Linda Noakes in what appeared to be a murder-suicide. Complicating matters, their son Paul is one of the Night Hawks.
The bodies continue to pile up, and all of the deaths seem in some way related to the members of the metal detectorist group.
All the while, Nelson’s boss is pressuring him to retire, a prospect he is vigorously resisting. He recognizes he must make a decision soon, and not just about his professional life.
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. This book ends, like so many of them, with 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, 2021