Elly Griffiths has written another intriguing mystery in this third novel set along the remote Norfolk coast.
Grittiths created the crime series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, a character Canadian author Louise Penny called an “inspired creation.” Crossing Places, the series debut, won the Mary Higgins Clark Award. It brought Ruth into contact with DCI Harry Nelson, with surprising results that found Ruth pregnant. Griffiths advanced Ruth’s story in The Janus Stone, with a pregnant Ruth struggling to work and keep her baby’s father’s name to herself.
In The House at Sea’s End, Ruth is just back from maternity leave, learning how difficult it is to juggle being a mother with her demanding work. She’s called in to investigate when other members of her team, logging coastal erosion, investigate a rock fall and find human remains.
Handling childcare arrangements, leaving the infant daughter she’s fallen in love with, and worrying about this new case are all complicated for Ruth by the presence of Nelson, the child’s father. To make matters worse, Nelson’s lovely wife, Michelle, has grown fond of Ruth and enamored of the baby, remembering her two almost-grown daughters.
But back to those bones. Once exhumed, they turn out to be the skeletons of six men with their arms bound behind their backs, shot execution style. When bone testing confirms their age to be approximately seventy years old, Ruth and Nelson are led to investigating the history of the war years along this desolate stretch of coastline. Local Home Guard members patrolled the area at the time, anxious to protect the area from a German invasion.
When Home Guard veteran Archie Whitcliffe reveals a secret exists, he is killed before the details can come to light. Then a German journalist arrives, asking questions about Operation Lucifer. As the deaths mount up, Ruth and Nelson will try to unravel the secret that old soldiers have vowed to protect with their lives.
Griffiths has created an interesting mix with Ruth and Nelson. Ruth isn’t a femme fatale who seduced Nelson. Her feelings as she adapts to motherhood, from fear to delight, are spot on. Nelson, too, struggles with the thought of having created this new child whose life he won’t have involvement in the way he wants to. And then there’s his wife …
The forensic details are interesting and the history and archaeology aspects well researched. Add Ruth’s unusual friends to the mix, and you’ve got a small band of people surrounding Ruth who exasperate her even as they offer their support in well-meaning ways. Griffiths has created flawed people who are decent at heart–unless they are contemplating murder.
Auntie M is amongst the scores of readers who await Griffiths next Ruth Galloway outing, A Room Full of Bones, due this spring.