Elly Griffiths, October 2015, 400 pages, Quercus, ISBN: 1848663331
Reviewed by Michelle Peckham.
(Read more of Michelle's reviews for Euro Crime here.)
The abandoned airfields in Norfolk are apparently known as ‘the Ghost Fields’ and these provide the backdrop to the latest outing from Elly Griffiths. As the book begins, Ruth Galloway, archaeologist and sometime consultant to the local police force, is on a ‘dig’ with a large group of students, on the hunt for Roman remains, while being irritated by her boss Phil. Several fields away, a body is discovered inside an old Second World War plane, buried in a field that is part of Devil’s Hollow, which is being prepared for a new housing development. And so, at the start of this, the seventh book in the series, Ruth is called in by DCI Harry Nelson to give her opinion. Immediately, she spots a couple of curious things, such as the fact that the soil has only recently been disturbed and the preservation of the body isn’t consistent with the chalky soil, and then she discovers the bullet hole in the corpse’s forehead, and it’s clear this is not just the body of a pilot trapped in his plane after a crash that has gone undiscovered, but a murder. But, who put the body there, and why? And, who is the murdered man?
A slow investigation ensues, as the first task is to identify the body, who turns out to be someone called Frederick J. Blackstock, of the posh family Blackstocks. A family who once seemed to own much in the local area, and still live in Blackstock Hall, but are clearly down on their luck. However, Frederick had supposedly emigrated to America in the thirties, and while he had been known to be a pilot in the war, the family had been told that his plane went down in the sea, with no survivors. He was one of three brothers. Lewis (the oldest) had survived the war, but disappeared during the 1950s, and as Frederick had already died, the third brother George (the youngest) inherited the Hall. So, how could the body of a man who had apparently died in the war, suddenly turn up in the cockpit of a plane with a bullet hole in his head? And, as this is clearly an old murder, where has his body been all these years?
The find is exciting enough to attract the media, and in particular an old acquaintance of Ruth’s, a TV presenter with whom she appeared on a TV show before (Women who Kill), and with whom she has a sort of relationship (Frank Barker). This leads to further complications in Ruth’s private life, as she has a young daughter who was fathered by Nelson, but they do not live together or even have a romantic relationship, as Nelson does not want to leave his wife Michelle. Cue romantic agonizing by Ruth as she tries to decide if Frank is still interested in her or not, and even if he was, what would she do anyway. Meanwhile, even Nelson’s private life is becoming somewhat complicated, as Michelle seems to be up to something behind his unsuspecting back.
The investigation into Frederick’s death is not a major priority although Nelson does gradually push ahead with it. While Nelson wishes he was investigating a standard current day murder, Ruth loves to engage with the layers of history beneath their feet. Eventually, it’s down to Ruth’s insatiable curiosity that a few clues start to be uncovered that begin to lead to the final denouement. Some interesting history about the Second World War, and the American airbases in Norfolk are weaved into the plot. But in the end, it is all going to boil down to old family secrets waiting to be discovered. A gentle, meandering plot with a tense ending, and enjoyable as always.
Michelle Peckham, October 2015