When she’s not digging up bones or other ancient objects, quirky, tart-tongued archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives happily alone in a remote area called Saltmarsh near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants - not quite earth, not quite sea.
When a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach nearby, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls Galloway for help. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to ritual and sacrifice.
The bones actually turn out to be two thousand years old, but Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers. Then another child goes missing and the hunt is on to find her.
As the letter writer moves closer and the windswept Norfolk landscape exerts its power, Ruth finds herself in completely new territory – and in serious danger.
I had to read this while we are on holiday on the North Norfolk coast seeing as this is where the story takes place! And the author quotes from "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins which just made it irresistible!
I loved the atmospheric setting of the saltmarshes - or as Griffiths describes them, the "drowned landscapes", which have a "peculiar magic of their own" and trigger a fear in people of what is "buried" and what they can not see. Just as the Romney Marshes in "Great Expectations", the North Norfolk saltmarshes are a brilliant location for murder, tension and excitement. The silent stillness of these marshes masks their deadly danger as the apparently dried out craters lure walkers from the paths into the mud which will suddenly swallow them up. We have walked along some of the marshy coast line and I always thought it was a great location for a thriller. The narrow, weaving pathways are littered with warnings not to stray and to be mindful of the tides which sweep in unsuspectingly in a patchwork of trickling streams, cutting you off from any route back to the mainland.
Griffiths ably captures the menacing landscape. I really enjoyed the historical detail about causeways to Sweden and prehistoric rituals about the sacredness of a place where land meets sea and life meets death. I found the passages where the characters were retracing the causeway paths out to the mythological "Henge Circle" gripping.
Dr Ruth Galloway is a likeable enough character - perhaps a more unusual and unassuming heroine and I liked this aspect of the novel too. She is educated, intelligent, lonely, awkward and fallible-not a particularly conventional or cliched protagonist. I liked the fact that she is engrossed in her own forensic archaeology research and how her studies aid DCI Harry Nelson. I think Griffiths has created quite a refreshing partnership and I was pleasantly surprised by Galloway's influence and contribution to the investigation.
This has all the ingredients for an engaging and enjoyable detective novel. There's tension, suspense, atmosphere, credible characters, a few twists and a few shocks along the way. It was an easy read; it's not gratuitous, overly violent or graphic. There is a very manageable cast of characters and the plot is focussed and not overly distracted by too many red herrings or concurrent sub plots - although complex enough to stop me from working it all out! I would read more by this author.
This is the first book in a series and I am interested in reading a few more - particularly while on holiday in the fabulous Norfolk!
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