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Wednesday, 22 February 2017

‘The Chalk Pit’ by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus,
23 February 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-78429-660-5

As any crime series progresses, especially one which is set in a location where murders rarely happen, the author has to face the challenge of keeping things on the right side of the credibility line. When the protagonist isn’t even part of the investigation, it surely becomes harder still.

Elly Griffiths is an author who never fails to rise to that challenge and meet it head on. In The Chalk Pit, ninth in her inimitable series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, she achieves her objective by taking the focus off Ruth herself for much of the narrative. Griffiths has such a deft hand with characters that, engaging though Ruth is, the story remains safe and absorbing in the hands of DCI Harry Nelson, DS Judy Johnson and even, briefly, the less sympathetic DC Tanya.  

The background is effortlessly drawn; Elly Griffiths knows and loves Norfolk, and succeeds in making even the modern-day murders credible. There are plenty of old bones waiting to be found as well, and her archaeology research is worn lightly but with assurance.

This time around, Ruth is excavating an underground tunnel after human bones have been discovered during a building project. The bones are all the more intriguing because they appear to have been boiled, and there are rumours of a cannibal society living in the tunnels.

Meanwhile Nelson and his Serious Crime Squad are investigating the disappearance of a homeless woman, with repercussions which turn out to be far more tragic. Ruth’s bones are only peripherally connected to their case, but her relationship with Nelson (for benefit of newcomers to the series, he’s her little girl’s father, but he’s married to the far more glamorous Michelle) draws her in and she is soon in the thick of things.

The story is as gripping as ever, but also as usual it’s the characters who really hold the reader’s attention. Even minor players such as Grace, the student who starts a new thread in the investigation, and poseur playwright Leo are sharp and real. Ruth Galloway herself seems to be gaining a confidence she lacked in earlier episodes; she’s less affected by other women’s glamour compared with her own unkempt-ness and struggle with her weight.  And when personal tragedy strikes, she copes without missing a beat.

Add in Nelson’s domestic tangles and his collision course with his new boss, and a cliffhanger which will keep Ruth Galloway’s many fans guessing till next time, the result is another rich mix to keep this engrossing series fresh and on course.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Elly Griffiths is the author of a series of crime novels set in England’s Norfolk county and featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. The first in the series, Crossing Places, earned a good deal of praise both in Griffiths’ native country, England, and in the U.S. The Literary Review termed it “a cleverly plotted and extremely interesting first novel, highly recommended.  Since then Elly has written six further novels featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, The Janus Stone, The House at Seas End, A Room Full of Bones, Dying Fall, The Outcast Dead  and  two books in a  new series set in the 1950’s.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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