When archaeologist Dan Golding finds the burial site of the Raven King, he writes to his old university friend Ruth Galloway to ask for her expert help in examining the bones. But by the time Ruth receives the letter, Dan is dead…
In this outing, Griffiths takes Ruth north to Lancashire, accompanied by her child Kate and her druid friend Cathbad. Nelson follows, partly to visit his old home and the family and friends that still live there, partly to find out what’s happening in the police investigation of Dan’s death. The descriptions of Lancashire are very good, highlighting the differences between the glitzy vulgarity of Blackpool, the net-curtained respectability of the small towns around, and the wild and desolate feel of the countryside and woods. Ruth remains a likeable character on the whole, although her constant obsession with her weight is becoming ever more tiresome. We get it – she’s fat and she’d rather be slim. Cathbad and Nelson are becoming more rounded and more likeable as the series progresses and Griffiths’ portrayal of each of their relationships to little Kate feel very realistic.
However, I found that there were a few problems with the book. Firstly, I got very tired of Northerners being portrayed as somehow culturally Neanderthal, dragging behind their sophisticated counterparts down south in questions of sexism, racism, and political correctness generally – a very clichéd approach, I felt. I found the present-tense narrative felt false and contrived and the book seemed to take an age to really get going. But more than that, there were some ridiculous things relating to the police investigation that lent an air of unreality to the whole thing: it took the police weeks to start a murder investigation – it seemed as if they were content to do nothing while they waited for Ruth and Nelson to arrive; no-one except the police seemed to know Dan had been murdered till Ruth told them; the police didn’t think to call Dan’s phone – it was left to Ruth to come up with that hardly revolutionary idea; and finally and most unrealistically, the police gave Ruth a copy of Dan’s diary to read to see if she could spot any clues – presumably Northerners can’t read?
Having said that, the plot is interesting (if a little far-fetched), the characterisation is good and the last third or so of the book is exciting and full of tension. Overall, I enjoyed it but I feel the author has to tighten up on the loose plot contrivances if she wants to take her place in the front-rank of current crime/thriller writers. Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars for me, so rounding up because despite my criticisms I will still be looking out for the next in the series.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.