And here it is, the latest entry in the series that has cheered up Jan or Feb for so many years now. The Night Hawks is the 13th in Elly Griffiths’ Dr Ruth Galloway series: each one has been a wonderful, involving, engrossing crime story – and also has taken us along in the lives of, first, Ruth, archaeologist and academic extraordinaire, and Harry Nelson, (‘no-one in Norfolk, apart from his wife, calls Nelson ‘Harry’’) the policeman who finds her cases to solve (well, sometimes she finds them for herself). And then also their circle of friends and colleagues and connections: Cathbad and Judy, and Katy, and Phil and Shona, Michelle and the daughters, and a welcome return of Cloughy.
And there’s a new addition: David Brown, a new lecturer working with – or for? – Ruth and SUCH a recognizable type – incredibly annoying and pushy, but somehow getting away with it.
The plot concerns metal detectorists who call themselves the Night Hawks, who have stumbled across a body on a North Norfolk beach.
‘They’re not archaeologists’ says Ruth. ‘They’re amateurs who charge around looking for treasure. They’ve no idea how to excavate or how to read the context. They just dive in and dig up whatever looks shiny.’
‘Wow’ says David. ‘Elitism is alive and well and living in Norfolk.’
As well as the present-day body, a hoard of metal implements turns up, and then an older body, something more in Ruth’s line. And so the investigation is off – the two teams carefully look at what is going on with the two different bodies and plots.
It turns out that Cathbad – resident druid – sometimes goes out with the Night Hawks:
‘He says that they’re genuine questing souls’ says Judy.
Nelson thinks ‘Questing souls indeed. He never knows quite what Judy, his best and most rational officer, makes of her partner’s beliefs. She certainly manages to say this sort of thing with a straight face.’
One of the (many) things I love about this series is that although there is no doubt at all that Ruth is protagonist and heroine and key character, with Nelson a close runner-up, Griffiths is able to get into the heads and thoughts and words of all her characters, and makes them all equally funny and convincing and interesting.
The long relationship between Ruth and Nelson could sound cliched, but it is not: it is done with incredible sensitivity and conviction. Ruth is not some putupon mistress who yearns for her married lover; Nelson is not some cheating husband or neglectful dad. They are all, including Michelle, people with imperfections trying to make the best of a difficult situation. Mind you, that’s not to say that we’re not all waiting each time to find out where Elly Griffiths will take the plotline next – my own fear is that she ever settles it for good then she will stop writing the series, which would be AWFUL, so I am (mostly) happy with the long-term lack of resolution.
[The only consolation if she ended the story would be that Griffiths also writes the Brighton series, the Justice series for Young Adults, and now has started up a third, featuring Detective Harbinder Kaur - you can find posts on some of these if you click on the Griffiths tag below]
It's a complicated plot, with the extremely sinister Black Dog Farm at the centre of it, and a family with more secrets, violence and hatred than even your usual crime book. It is tense and involving and, as always, very funny at times.
I always end up quoting from the books a lot:
She can never remember people’s names [at the schoolgate] and, when she can, she worries that it’s because she’s recently arrested them.
‘All the family are fishermen. Except my uncle. He’s the black sheep.’
‘What does he do?’ says Nelson.
‘He’s a policeman.’
If you've never read these books - lucky you. You've got such a series of treats ahead of you...
A year ago when I covered the previous Ruth book, I discovered what a rich source Pinterest was for great archaeologist looks, so am sharing some more with you now… you can look back at the earlier post for more.