The Chalk Pit

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The Chalk Pit, Elly GriffithsWritten by Elly Griffiths — Some books are let down by the lack of coherent characterisation, featuring players so one-dimensional they would blow away in a gentle breeze. Not so with the work of Elly Griffiths, whose books are populated by creations as well rounded and multi-layered as a set of Russian nesting dolls. It also applies to her settings, because Griffiths’ love of Norfolk shines through in every thoughtfully composed description.

We’ve reached number nine in the series featuring forensic archeologist Dr Ruth Galloway, and followers will be well acquainted with the on-off relationship between Ruth and DCI Harry Nelson. Little has changed in that regard, and the awkward manoeuvring between the pair of them is just one sinuous aspect of a novel which has storylines running off in all directions – much like the chalk tunnels which lie under the city of Norwich and have such an important part to play in The Chalk Pit.

Ruth and Nelson are tiptoeing around each other, trying to find a middle ground that suits them both and, most importantly, their daughter Kate. Ruth is still carrying a torch for her former lover; meanwhile, Nelson is battling to keep both wife and former lover happy…. and putting off the day when he has to introduce Kate properly to his two elder daughters.

Personal issues go on the back burner when Ruth is called to one of the aforementioned tunnels to examine a pile of bones found there during construction work on a new underground restaurant. They are human, and tests show them to be much more recent than originally thought. Another murder to add to Nelson’s ever-growing workload, and with a new boss to impress it is the last thing he needs.

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is checking out the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. Rumours are that Babs has ‘gone underground’ – but what does that actually mean? Then another rough sleeper is found dead, a knife in his chest, and a mother of four disappears without trace, leaving her beloved children home alone. It’s a hot, sultry summer in Norfolk and the locals are getting restless. Can there be any connection between the expanding caseload, and could rumours of an underground society be true?

Ruth and Nelson are already firmly at the centre of these books but it is good to see Judy Johnson being given a place in the spotlight this time. Although I was sorry to see Cathbad somewhat sidelined on this occasion, no Ruth Galloway book would be complete without him. Nelson’s new boss, Supt Jo Archer is, on the face of it, yet another no-nonsense career woman intent on keeping budgets and wayward staff in check, but as the tale unfolds we begin to see her in a different light. She is a promising addition to the cast, and offers plenty of scope for further development.

The Ruth Galloway books are very much of the moment, tackling contemporary problems like homelessness and meeting them head-on (and in this case chucking in hints of cannibalism and ritual killing for good measure), but I love the tantalising glimpses of day-to-day domesticity which temper the darkness and add an almost cosy touch. It’s a neat balancing act and once which serves to keep us firmly on point from start to finish. There are revelations aplenty as we reach the finale, setting out the stall for some juicy machinations in book 10. Bring it on!

We reviewed the previous Ruth Galloway novel The Woman in Blue here, or for a different forensic anthropologist try Kathy Reichs’ Tempe Brennan books.


CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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