Ruth Galloway is a middle-aged archaeologist, happy to live by herself by the Saltmarsh near Norfolk, an area where Iron Age settlers lived and performed religious ceremonies. It’s also the area where two young girls have gone missing – one ten years ago, and one very recently. When a child’s bones are found nearby, DCI Harry Nelson calls in Ruth to identify them.
It quickly transpires that these bones are more than two years old – closer to two thousand in fact. So not the bones of the murder victim – case closed. Or it would be if Ruth then hadn’t started receiving chilling threats from someone who is watching her. Someone who could be closer that she thinks…
This is one of my 20 Books Of Summer, picked as a) it’s been sitting on my shelf for an age, b) everyone bangs on about how good this series is and c) I’ve enjoyed the Max Mephisto series from Elly Griffiths, so I thought I’d try her first series, starting at book one.
It’s written in the present tense, always an odd choice in my book, but it’s often the sign of a good writer how quickly you stop noticing it, and in this case, it was pretty quick. It’s a powerfully told tale, with strong characters, in particular Ruth herself, with many strands (on the personal side) left open to be presumably explored at a later date. Griffiths has clearly thought carefully about the array of characters here and I’m curious as to which ones will return in the next book, and where Ruth’s journey will take her.
The strong characterisation and haunting atmosphere are both good things, as I find it a little harder to recommend the book on the strength of the plot alone. Very little happens in the case of the missing girls in the first half of the narrative, and as the tale progresses, one twist is so heavily telegraphed, I’m not sure it was even supposed to be a twist. The build-up of the mystical themes is a little derailed by the motivations of the killer, someone whose identity wasn’t that much of a surprise.
So, not the strongest mystery plot that I’ve ever read, but an atmospheric tale that, slightly to my surprise, has made me want to come back for more. Recommended.