There can be few greater causes for rejoicing in the world of books to beat the publication of a new addition to a series you love. And how I do love Elly Griffiths' Dr Ruth Galloway novels, of which this is, amazingly, the ninth. I've been a fan since day one, and I'm happy to say that - unlike a few ongoing series I could mention - these novels show no sign of fatigue or lack of inspiration.
For anyone who doesn't know, Ruth Galloway is a forensic anthropologist, teaching at the fiction University of North Norfolk. Ruth lives in a remote, beautiful marshy area not far from town, with her now six-year-old daughter Katie. Although her speciality is old bones, she has been called in many times by the police to advise on more recent discoveries, and this has meant she is often working with DI Nelson, who, though married to the beautiful Michelle and father of two grown up daughters, is also Katie's father.
In this novel, Ruth is asked to give her opinion on some bones that have been found in a chalk tunnel underneath the city centre of Norwich, Norfolk's capital city. Set in the very east of England, Norwich is an ancient, fascinating city which I know a bit because I stay with a friend who lives there. What I didn't know, though, is that the whole city rests on a complex of tunnels, carved out from the local chalk, many dating from the middle ages. Here, a local, young and trendy architect is planning to construct a restaurant and leisure centre, but his plans have been put on hold until the bones can be dated - if they are ancient, work can proceed, but if recent, no go. And, in fact, they do turn out to be recent.
Although the bones prove hard to identify (they appear to have been boiled), the police are soon involved, and Ruth and her colleagues find themselves drawn in to the large homeless community of the city, even discovering that there's a secret society of homeless people who have made themselves homes in the tunnel network. A homeless woman has disappeared without trace, two homeless men are found dead, and over the coming days two more women vanish out of the blue, one of them the partner of one of the police officers. Despite the best efforts of the police, the whole thing remains a worrying mystery.
On one level, then, this is a police procedural, and the plot is, as usual, gripping and satisfying. To be honest, though, what keeps me (and Griffiths' many other admirers) coming back time after time is really the characters, who of course we have all come to know and love. Over the years we've followed the ups and downs of the relationship between DC Judy Johnson and her partner Cathbad, a committed Druid, who is now living at home and caring for the couple's young daughter. Then there's rough diamond Clough, who to our surprise is about to marry his stunning, classy actress girlfriend and mother of his son. Above all, of course, there's Ruth, clever, sceptical, devoted to Katie and, despite her attempts to hold onto her independence, still in love with Nelson. Yes, she knows he is happy enough with Michelle, but she can't help sometimes wondering what life would be like if they were able to live together. I can't say too much but there are some interesting developments here and there's a killer last line in the novel which makes me long to read the next in the series.
So - if by some miracle you have managed to miss this series, I suggest you start at the beginning and work your way through, You will not regret it!