The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

published 2015

Ghost Fields

‘There are a lot of these abandoned airfields in Norfolk… They call them the ghost fields.’

The ghost fields. Nelson’s not a fanciful man but, just for a second, he imagines the sky full of lumbering Second World War planes, rising into the clouds and heading out to sea. He thinks of the men inside the control tower listening to their final briefing, not knowing whether they’ll ever come back.


[As she investigates a body found in the wrong place, Dr Ruth Galloway goes to a museum of RAF history]

‘I’ve sorted out some photographs for you,’ says Ray, pointing towards the table.

Ruth leans over to look. The faded pictures show huge aeroplanes with men standing on stepladders to reach the propellers, sprawled on the wings doing repair work or just grinning beside the monstrous creatures, dwarfed by the great khaki wings.

‘They were B24s and B17s,’ says Ray. ‘The B17s were the famous Flying Fortresses.’

Ruth is looking at the men. They are wearing overalls and leather jackets, flying goggles still perched on their heads. They are laughing and gesticulating, as if the killing machines behind them are nothing more than a backdrop. Two men are holding up a sign saying ‘Lucky Bastards Club.’

‘If you completed 30 missions, you were part of the Lucky Bastards Club,’ says Ray. ‘Not many did.’

observations: This book tells us that ‘in 1942, a new airfield was built every three days.’ The action is set entirely in the present day, but that atmosphere of the lost flyers, the planes taking off, the doomed young men with no future – is all beautifully conjured up. The plot concerns a crashed plane dug up in a field, and the body that shouldn’t have been in it.

The usual splendid cast of characters gets involved: Judy is having a baby imminently, Cathbad is ‘much in demand as a spiritual counsellor.’ Clough has quite a big role this time. Kate starts school, Ruth ponders the possibilities of a relationship with Frank. A TV crew is yet again in the offing – this might seem an unlikely repeated plot turn in the books, except that you there are so many archaeology/history programmes on the box these days that it is wholly convincing. The weather is terrible, floods are threatened, and Ruth’s part of the Norfolk Coast is as lonely and dark as ever. And the book is full of the usual clever perceptions and funny remarks.

Old photographs are a feature: I particularly liked the woman who has put the key pictures in a cookery book for safekeeping. The perfection of Elly Griffiths’ writing comes in their ‘emerging from Delia [Smith]’s Spanish Pork with Olives’ – exactly the right book, exactly the right recipe.

This is one of my favourite current crime series, Ruth is one of my favourite sleuths, and Harry Nelson is definitely my favourite policeman of all time, the thinking woman’s detective. So I am happy to report that The Ghost Fields is well up to scratch – the best so far. I hope the series goes on forever.

Past books in the series have featured on the blog, and also the first of Griffiths’ new series, Zig Zag Girl.

I am a devoted crime fiction fan, but I would happily read a straight novel about Ruth and her life.

Meanwhile, Elly Griffiths told us on Twitter that a Guardian interview with man-of-the-moment Mark Rylance convinced her that ‘he IS Cathbad’. Plainly that should be his next role after Thomas Cromwell.

Then, when I read this:
The gleam of purple cloak is unmistakable. Cathbad, in full druid’s regalia, is making her way over to her, accompanied by another, similarly dressed man.
‘Hail,’ says Cathbad, possibly thinking that the occasion calls for more than a simple ‘hallo’.
--- I knew it was time to resurrect this picture of druids from an earlier entry on Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave:
Ghost Fields 2

It is by George Henry, painted around 1890, and is from the Athenaeum website.
The top picture is from the Imperial War Museum, and shows a Bomber crew at Whitley in 1941.


  1. I'm an Elly Griffiths fan, Moira, and think that this series is fantastic. I really do love the way that Griffith evokes both modern-day Norfolk and the historical era. And among many characters I've come to really like in this series, Cathbad is definitely one of the best. So glad you enjoyed this.

    1. Anyone who has liked the series to date will love this one, Margot. She always does a great job of creating atmosphere, and this is a particularly good example.

  2. I have the Janus Stone to read next. I wish that present tense writing did not bother me so much; it puts me off reading an author's books sometimes. Oh well, this is one of those series that is so loved by other readers that I have to keep trying.

    1. It often does bother me, but not with this particular series. So worth it, honestly Tracy!

  3. "‘Hail,’ says Cathbad, possibly thinking that the occasion calls for more than a simple ‘hallo’."

    In The Sword in the Stone Merlin gets some interesting effects by using "Hail." as a greeting.
    I think I'd better look at the book to find out what Druids are doing in a story about WWII bombers. Your picture probably shows the crew of an R.A.F. Whitley aeroplane with their 'plane, which was twin-engined and much older and smaller than the American aircraft mentioned above.

    1. It's a really good book, and everything is well worked out. Cathbad the Druid is a terrific character! Thanks for the info on the planes....

  4. Me too, Margot. Love Cathbad. And all the Elly Griffiths books, actually.

    1. Every one of her books is a winner in my view...

  5. Glad you enjoyed, but I'm passing on this series,

  6. I'm so glad to see that another Ruth Galloway book is out. She's my kind of person, so down-to-earth, smart, not chic or glamorous or thin, but middle-aged and real. And that this is a very good book is music to this Griffiths' fan.

    But on Harry Nelson, I like him. But he does not take the place of Commissario Guido Brunetti, a thinking police officer, who does not resort to violence. He uses his mind and thinks through cases and also social issues of the day. He also has compassion for many people as well as a love of his city, Venice, that is great to take in.

    1. Always a good moment when a new Ruth book comes out. And I understand your liking for Brunetti....


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