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.


CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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  1. Richard Latham Reply

    A perfect story; all the ingredients here to ensure another Ruth Galloway book is well received.
    First the reveal. What skin tone is Michelle’s baby?
    Secondly, Frank dropping in and doing Nelson’s head in. “I’ll deport him”. Love that Flint has not taken to Kate’s Dad.
    Finally, everyone gets a chance to shine it isn’t just the Ruth and Nelson show.
    Hard to imagine this is the 11th instalment of this originally conceived as a ‘10’ book series. Elly’s imagination is not waning as she draws in the past to present a thrilling mystery.
    Another archaeological dig; Eric’s son involved. An unsolved incident, a missing child from many years ago; echoes of letters to the Police and re-opening of a cold case.
    That the author can balance these characters and advance their stories against the background of child abduction shows her range of skills and sensitivity as a writer.
    In this novel Michelle’s ache for Tim is sharp and love for her husband evident. As a new Mum time is given to that experience making friends and gaining confidence. Nelson adores all his children and grows tired of hiding the truth desiring to be open and honest. This is both well written and structured. He is both a lapsed Catholic and a bloke trying not to appear too emotionally open. His love for Ruth is often subtle; but at times shows open hostility to her suitors and his feelings are clear in a touching scene and conversation with Judy.
    All this drama could get in the way or the crime investigation and become the story. But there is a razor-sharp plot, a wider police procedural. Development here also of the DS’s who respect and follow Nelson’s lead.
    The book is not sentimental, but the hard parts of life are addressed and Nelson the policeman in touch with his parental side is a revelation.
    Fans will debate if he’ll ever leave Michelle. Elly plays this aspect of the saga with extreme care and a wide grin as both scenarios drift in and out of focus.
    What is certain book 12 is a done deal and that is the best reveal. This series has captured the imaginations of countless readers and won Elly deserved plaudits. Ruth is safe in her hands and while fans press her for spoilers only Book 12 will reveal. Her novels are treasured because we can identify with her characters and the crimes advanced are true to life and equally real.

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