The Stone Circle

Written by Elly Griffiths — Some crime novels take no prisoners and smack you between the eyes from the get-go, while others greet you warmly, slippers and a welcome glass of wine at the ready. Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series definitely falls into the latter category, and opening The Stone Circle feels like reconnecting with a dear old friend.

We’ve reached number 11 in the series, and in a neat bit of plotting Griffiths harks back to the book that started it all, The Crossing Places. DCI Harry Nelson’s got mail, and the note and its contents echo missives he received two decades ago, from a killer. So is the murderer back? Impossible: the writer was Norwegian professor Erik Anderssen, and Anderssen drowned on the Norfolk marshes way back then.

So who is the correspondent and what is the meaning of the chilling message? “You must have known that I would rise again… save the innocent who lies in the stone circle…” Gruff and down to earth, Nelson’s the last person who’d ever believe in ghosts but he seems rattled.

Meanwhile, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway finds the past catching up with her too. By coincidence, the site of those earlier crimes has recently become the focus of a new dig. It is the site of an ancient wooden henge, and researchers have uncovered a stone coffin which contains Bronze Age remains. The team have dubbed the place ‘the stone circle’ but when Ruth calls by for a closer look she finds remains that are much more recent. And she thinks she sees Erik, her old professor and mentor – but Erik is dead, so there’s got to be another explanation.

Don’t worry, we’re not delving into the realms of the paranormal. The man Ruth spies is actually Erik’s son, Leif, who bears a striking resemblance to his Dad. Leif is tall, handsome and very real. There’s also something about him that isn’t completely trustworthy. We’ll need to keep an eye on this one, methinks.

Then the more recent skeleton is identified and, once again, the past is about to take centre stage. Someone in the here and now is playing with people’s fears and emotions. Family, and its myriad modern-day permutations are about to play a vital role here – but who can be trusted in this maelstrom of confusion and dysfunction? Even recurring series favourite, the brilliantly conceived, totally off his trolley Druid Cathbad, is doing things that are distinctly out of character.

Outside of work, Nelson’s life is dominated by the imminent arrival of his new child. Fans of the series know the implications of this unexpected baby to the on/off relationship between Nelson and Ruth. We’re not even certain that Nelson is the father of his wife Michelle’s child, and then there’s the added secret about the parentage of Ruth’s daughter Kate. One day, Nelson needs to come clean about her to his grown up daughters but will the time ever be right for such a revelation? The juxtaposition of life and work is, as ever, deftly handled by Griffiths.

The Stone Circle is an absolute joy to read and possibly my favourite in the series so far. The text is liberally salted with deceptively simple yet telling lines that make you stop for a moment and smile a knowing smile, caught up in the sweet eloquence of a writer who really is at the top of her game.

Fans of the series are going to love this book, so deftly does it juggle the complexities of a case with the complicated and compelling relationship of the two central characters. Yes, The Stone Circle can be read as a standalone, but I’d recommend a binge read of the books that go before it. Why deny yourself the pleasure of getting to know Nelson and Ruth from the very beginning?

Also see Elly Griffiths’ Gothic standalone The Stranger Diaries. For more atmospheric crime fiction set in Norfolk, try Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth.

Quercus
Print/Kindle/iBook
£12.99

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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