Griffithsí latest Ruth Galloway outing has an apt title, a lively thriller filled with malice and layer upon layer of troubling revelations centering on the murder of Ruthís ex-colleague Dan Golding. Moving the action from Ruthís home and the lonely beauty of the Norfolk Salt-marshes to Blackpoolís sandy beaches and
on to ancient Pendle Forest, Griffiths unfurls a story in which the legend of King Arthur is given a fresh perspective.
Danís death is just one incident in a tale packed with good and selfish characters. Found lifeless in his cottage,
it is first thought that Danís demise was caused by faulty electrical wiring. Ruth,
however, could never imagine that Dan could be the victim of something so simple
and devastating as a house fire. Then she receives a letter, posted a few days before his death, telling of an archaeological discovery that could change everything.
As the riddle behind Dan's demise unfolds, Ruthís complicated personal life stays complicated yet is unable to eclipse the terrible mystery. Danís killer tries to frighten Ruth by sending her mysterious text messages. Someone is threatening her and by implication Kate, yet Ruth shrinks from telling Nelson when he discovers that she has followed him to Lancashire. Following on the trail of a murder inquiry, Ruth, Kate and Cathbad descend into the frozen and inhospitable north, once an alien territory of the barbarous lands of the Anglo-Saxon hordes.
Ruth stalks through this novel, a brave, professional woman beset with the trials of motherhood. As Danís deep, sleepy voice comes to Ruth across the years, she finds herself haunted by his near and ancient past. Dan was rumored to have found the biggest archaeological find of the decade; according Clayton Henry, Danís boss, he was like a man possessed. Something or someone was responsible for Danís fears and for Claytonís bluster, maybe even for the phony kindness of Sam Elliot, a modern history professor and Danís best friend.
The mystery of Danís discovery drives the pace of the story, but a great deal of time is spent on the characters' backgrounds, especially in the first chapters
(which drag out Ruthís back-story a bit too much). Cathbad takes a more active role in this tale,
along with white-robed druid Pendragon, who lives in creepy Pendle Forest and leaves gifts out for a witch who died hundred years ago. Nelsonís working-class roots also get a lot of attention as he continues to battle to shape his relationship with Ruth into one of benevolent friendship.
There is less actual archeology in this episode than in the previous outings, with Ruth becoming a sort of amateur sleuth as she works to solve various plots that revolve around a group of anti-immigrant white supremacists, some very strange bedfellows connected in the form of fascist conspiracies, and the tangled love lives of Pendle University's history department. These plots
interconnect around the courtly Arthurian legend as it dissolves into the darker realm of the Raven King, and the identity of the heroes and villains remain a mystery until the dramatic end of the tale, when a main character is kidnapped on Blackpoolís Pleasure Beach.
Writing in a lively (if a little simplistic) tone, Griffiths gets to the heart of Ruth and Nelsonís tentative romance and nascent love in a time of crisis. Reluctant to face bitter truths, Nelson and Cathbad must learn to pick up the pieces of life and use them to rebuild, just as Ruth continues to juggle her love for Nelson with her career. Once again, Griffiths does a great job of drawing us into the chaotic, fractured world of Ruth Galloway, her unconventional, lovable heroine.