How lovely it is to pick up a new novel from one of my favourite series. It’s like putting on a favourite, worn-in pair of jeans. I love Dr.Ruth Galloway, Cathbad and Nelson like old friends, the type you only see once a year, but when you see them, you can simply pick up where you left off. It only takes a page and I’m immediately back in Norfolk, with big skies and the salt marsh. Dr Ruth Galloway is one of my favourite literary heroines. She’s super intelligent, independent, slightly overweight has hair that never does what it’s supposed to and is possibly sweating – to be honest the physical characteristics could be a description of me on any family photo we have. This is why so many female readers like her – she’s one of us.
In this novel there have been some big changes for Ruth and her daughter Kate. She has moved from her little cottage on the Saltmarsh into Cambridge, where she is teaching in one of the prestigious colleges and living with television presenter, Frank. They seem to have a happy existence, teaching and sharing care of Kate, and taking turns to cook. Even Flint the cat is trying to get used to urban living. These are the last few weeks of term and Frank is pushing for them to take a Mediterranean holiday together. Ruth has just returned from a week’s writing retreat at Grey Walls to finish her current book.
Back in Norfolk, DCI Nelson has just jailed Ivor March for murder and hopes he is going to disclose where more bodies are buried. Two were found at his wife’s Chantal’s home in the garden, covered in his DNA and that of his cat Mother Gabley. However, there are two more women Nelson wants to find. Ivor’s first wife is called Crissy and she just happens to run the artist’s retreat Grey Walls. This could just be a coincidence, but Nelson doesn’t like coincidences. March insists that he will disclose where the bodies are if Ruth takes charge of the excavation. Although Nelson makes it clear that she doesn’t have to say yes, Ruth does feel a certain excitement at being asked. There is also the added attraction of spending time with Nelson.
Matters become even more complicated when Ruth’s old boss, Phil, is attacked when cycling home. The attack is foiled by Cathbad (who else) who magically appears just as Phil has a heart attack. Then thief gets away with his backpack containing his laptop and notes on the first Ivor March excavations. A postcard arrives suggesting that Ruth will do the excavation job better than Phil. Of course, Ruth does make a discovery. Not only does she find the two bodies the team were expecting, but a third woman, buried much earlier. The investigation starts to revolve around the Grey Walls retreat and its previous inhabitants – a small group of artists and writers who had a labyrinthine love life. Nelson is also becoming suspicious of a local cycling group which also hosts some of the ex- Grey Walls inhabitants. He is even more concerned when his daughter joins them.
Griffiths beautifully weaves Norfolk folklore through this mystery. One of the dead women wrote a short story based on the legend of the Lantern Men. The Lantern Men are an explanation for the mysterious lights seen on the Saltmarsh late at night, that appear to help lost travellers but actually lure them to their deaths. Could this legend be the inspiration behind these killings? All the women killed also have the same physical attributes. They are tall, slim and have long blonde hair. During the novel I worried about both Nelson’s and Cathbad’s daughters who fit this profile. Could the killer have a specific type or do they have another target in mind? Even more worrying to Nelson is the realisation that if Ivor March is safely behind bars who is behind the postcard and the latest missing woman?
I loved this particular mystery. It had so many potential murderers I kept flitting from one to the other. I enjoyed how the Norfolk legend inspired local writers and artists. I was also interested in Ruth’s personal story. At a time when she is arguably more settled than ever why does she feel restless? She experiences a panic attack when swimming, but can’t think of a cause. When Phil says he might retire after his heart attack, she realises there will be a head of department post at her old university UNN. Could this possibly lure her back to Norfolk, the wild little cottage and the sea?
I felt lucky to have a whole day to myself so I could read this straight through. I’d been feeling poorly and needed to rest so I got the chance to read it all in one go. This was a great addition to the series and my interest in these characters and their complicated lives shows no sign of waning.