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Tuesday 16 October 2018

‘The Hidden Bones’ by Nicola Ford

Published by Allison & Busby,
21 June 2018.
ISBN: ISBN: 978-0-7490-2362-1 (HB)

A missing Bronze Age artefact; an archaeologist with a mission; a modern dental filling in an ancient pot of cremated remains. You could be forgiven for thinking Elly Griffiths's Ruth Galloway has unearthed another case.

But no; there's a new kid on the archaeological mystery block. Dr Nick Snashall, the National Trust's expert on ancient remains at Stonehenge, has turned her hand and her unique skills to crime fiction. Under the alias of Nicola Ford, she has picked up all the elements listed above, added a thirty-year-old excavation that was never properly recorded, and set archaeologist Clare Hills to work on unravelling the resulting enigma.

Wiltshire is a haven for Clare and her ilk – ancient tombs and ruins abound there, simply begging to be explored, and, unsurprisingly since it's Nicola Ford's stamping ground in her other life, it all feels very real indeed. She also proves herself well up an essential task for the crime writer: ramping up the tension level. What starts as a trawl through decades-old dig records and a search for a missing artefact soon develops into a cold-case murder investigation which sends both the police and the protagonists on a hunt for the killer – and that's only the first half of the book.

If landscape and setting form the bones of fiction, the characters are its lifeblood, and. Nicola Ford's cast members have plenty going for them as well. Clare herself is damaged by the past and looking for a new direction. Her former degree supervisor Dr David Barbrook has problems of his own. Fellow archaeologist Professor Margaret Bockford, ancient bones specialist Jo Granski and Detective Inspector Sally Treen share a no-nonsense approach to life, and at the same time reveal themselves, each in her own way, as independent women with their own styles and agendas. Even the long-dead characters come across loud and clear, as do minor players such as Tony the pub landlord.

Nicola Ford may lack a little of Elly Griffiths's light touch with words, but she more than compensates with her knowledge of the archaeological world and her ability to weave it seamlessly into a pacy, gripping narrative. The Hidden Bones is a surefooted debut, and I look forward to following Clare Hills's new career in the series promised on the cover.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Nicola Ford is the pen-name for archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. Through her day-job and now her writing, she’s spent more time than most people thinking about the dead.

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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