Ruth, Ruth, Ruth
Every time Elly Griffiths comes out with another Ruth Galloway forensic archaeology mystery, I read it, I throw a fit, I swear off all future books in the series, and then…I read the next one. There is something charismatic about the awkward archaeologist that I apparently find hard to resist. So I’m loathe to say again that I’m fed up, but…well…
This is #13 in the series, and the personal angst has gone into overtime long since. In the first book, Ruth was called in to help out at a crime scene, met Detective Inspector Harry Nelson, and fell hard for him despite his abrupt manner. By book #3 she’s returning to work from maternity leave, but DI Nelson is still with his wife. In #13, Ruth’s daughter, Kate, is just about to enter secondary school, and yet the mooning goes on. There have been ultimatums, there have been selfless renunciations, Ruth has moved away and moved back again…but their relationship remains distressingly the same—tauntingly unattainable. And for at least the second time in the series, this book ends on a relationship cliffhanger that will definitely lure me to pick up the next, scheduled for summer of 2022, but I will once again do so with a (justified!) sense of outrage that we’re.still.waiting.
The Night Hawks continues the theme of murder entwined with archaeological finds on the marshy north Norfolk coast. Ruth has moved back, after her brief sojourn with Frank in Oxford, and is now head of the archaeology department at the college. This time a body is found lying in close conjunction to a Bronze Age stash of weapons and other doodads. It’s discovered by some “metal detectorists,” a nocturnal bunch of guys who go out as a club looking for artifacts on the beach. Ruth finds this hobby super sketchy, since it impinges on her real work and threatens to disturb legitimate archaeological finds, but she can’t be too vocal about it, considering her replacement lecturer at the college is a member.
After this initial discovery, the bodies start to pile up; one wonders what it is about north Norfolk that apparently causes it to be the new murder capitol of England! There’s what looks like a murder-suicide plus three other deaths, all centered around the ominous Black Dog Farm, named for the Black Shuck, a gigantic hound with red eyes who appears to people when they’re about to meet their fate, according to Norfolk legend. The usual participants all make an appearance—Judy, Tanya, Cathbad—alongside some new characters who lend themselves ably to Nelson’s suspect list. And there is, of course, the endless continuation of Ruth’s wistful longing for Nelson, and Nelson’s conflicted loyalty to his wife and original family up against his attachment to Ruth and Kate. But I have said enough about that!
All in all, it’s a pretty good mystery—much more satisfying in both development and content than a few of the series’ more recent ones—so I’m going to forgive Griffiths for the rest, lean hard on that cliffhanger, and foolishly and optimistically hope for the best for Ruth and Nelson in 2022.
Note regarding the cover: Why the publishers didn’t take advantage of the Black Shuck legend to put a big ole black Rottweiler or Dobie on the cover, instead of this innocuous picture of a life ring hanging on a post (which has no bearing on the story) is beyond me! Hound of the Baskervilles, guys! Why?!