In a story where the sea exposes secrets meant to remain hidden, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is fresh back from maternity leave and nursing four-month-old daughter Kate. Still exhibiting the best
traits of a working woman, Ruth finds herself plunged into the center of a murder case
while under the considerable pressures of juggling motherhood with career.
Also returning is gruff, lovable Detective Inspector Harry Nelson, his obvious class envy tempered by the usual energetic loyalty of his local Police Department. Luckily, neither Harry’s gorgeous hairdresser wife, Michelle, nor his colleagues Judy or Clough suspect anything about his connection to Kate, an association that will become increasingly obvious as Griffiths' compelling gothic mystery slowly unfolds.
The Sea End House towers above Griffiths’ characters, perpetually grey against the grey sky. More gothic than ever with its stone walls, mullioned windows, and dark battlements appearing black in the fading light, the House seems to float towards the ocean “like doomed ocean liner.” When Ruth’s university team discover four skeletons in an out-of-the-way place, Nelson and Ruth must navigate the treacherous, rocky paths below the House and motivate their team to solve the puzzle of a mass grave.
Although Nelson and Clough are convinced a serial killer is on the loose, it soon becomes clear that cause of death was a gunshot. The bullet found in the grave
is the type used in Webley Service revolvers, a firearm used by British soldiers in both
World Wars One and Two. Local MP Jack Hastings and his family have lived in the house all their lives, but neither he nor is wife, daughter, or octogenarian mother can shed light on how the bones came to be there.
More than any other book in the series, The House at Sea's End churns with a wild sense of place. Amid rumors of a German invasion on the Norfolk and Kent coasts in September 1940 to the possibility of a British war crimes, the deaths of two old men are tied to the word
Lucifer and to a “blood oath” sworn by them when they were teenagers. With the whole edge of the Norfolk coastline prey to coastal erosion, Nelson must hurry to assemble the details of the crime, but he's finding it hard to find someone alive who remembers the time in a mystery that
grows more intricate and disparate.
The murders are integral to the plot, but the real pleasure comes from the larger challenges of Ruth, who continues to be drawn to these lonely coastal landscapes with their miles of sand, sea, and salt marshes. Nelson
also struggles as he begins to use Ruth’s budding motherhood as a vehicle for his own brand of misguided self-help, his sense of infallibility and Catholic guilt
nonetheless blinding him to his own needs.
Can Nelson or Ruth possibly walk out of this novel with their respective faiths and reputations intact? Nelson tries hard, against the odds, to be an attentive new father.
He’s constantly concerned that Ruth neither has the money nor the emotional know-how to fully attend to Kate’s needs. With their secret in danger of being unleashed, they find themselves ever-more drawn to the sinister grey house perched precariously on the edge of the cliff.
With stories of crime novels filled with elaborate codes, where fishmongers, gardeners, soldiers and clever scientists were prepared to kill to defend their little piece of land, Stella Hastings’ fortuitous comment “desperate times” crackles throughout, a stark reminder of evil in the face of life and death, war and fear.