I have not met a book by Elly Griffiths that I don’t love. What a reader’s dream come true, to have a favorite author who always nails it. Of course, my first love is the Ruth Galloway series, as it came to me when I was attending my first Bouchercon conference and meeting Elly for the first time and being completely enthralled by both. I had just read A Dying Fall back in August of 2013, and I was still gushing over it. Ruth is the perfect imperfect character for me, and the stories created around her define great mystery/crime reading. Now here we are at book #13, The Night Hawks, and Elly Griffiths has given readers what is sure to be a favorite for all Ruth’s fervent fans.
I must note that it is impossible to review this series without spoilers for those who are just starting the series, so it’s best to read any review of the books as you progress through them, not before. In other words, don’t read further if you aren’t up to speed in the series. I want all readers to enjoy each development in each book in its natural flow and gobsmacking moments.
Ruth is now back in Norfolk in her cottage by the sea. At the end of book #12, The Lantern Men, she had left her job as a lecturer at Cambridge, where she had moved with Frank for two years to try and start a new life. But, it is Norfolk and her beloved marshland that will forever hold Ruth’s heart, as well as Harry Nelson. She has been fortunate to time her return when Phil Trent, her old boss, has retired from the head of the archeology department at the University of North Norfolk. The head job seems a natural progression, as over the years Ruth has represented the department in her ties to and work in the community. She is even able to keep teaching, something she enjoys.
Kate, Ruth’s ten-year-old daughter, has adapted from the two years in Cambridge back to Norfolk easily, falling back in step with school and her friends. Ruth and Kate and cantankerous cat Flint are all back to their old routines that no longer include Frank, who has returned to America. Kate is thrilled to have Nelson, her father, back in her life more, and, of course, Ruth has finally admitted to herself that seeing Nelson will forever give her pleasure, even though he still lives with his wife Michelle. Nelson also seems to have conceded that seeing Ruth and talking to her is something he looks forward to. But, the barriers are still up to anything more.
The name of the book, The Night Hawks, refers to the quasi-archeologists who gather at night to use their metal detectors and “knowledge” to search for treasures from the fertile grounds of buried ancient artifacts. They often go out in a group, searching along the seacoast and marshes. One night a group of local night hawks comes across a body that has washed up to shore, obviously dead, but without identification and no clear cause of death, other than drowning. The police are called in, and as it’s the middle of the night, DCI Nelson takes the call as the responder for the Norfolk Police Serious Crimes Unit. The body is at first assumed to be an asylum seeker who had a bad end.
The Night Hawks also have stumbled across a site of human bones close to the body of the dead man. Ruth is called in to excavate the site of the skeleton, her expertise always bringing forth fascinating information in the story about the myriad of people who inhabited the land thousands of years earlier. This particular excavation may bring information about a group called the Beakers, invaders who are thought to have brought a deadly virus to the area and wiped out the local inhabitants over 4,000 years ago. The human initially thought to be an asylum seeker turns out to be a local man who recently got out of prison. His identity will prove of more interest as the story develops.
And, the action keeps coming, with another late night call out for Nelson. This time it’s to an isolated farm, Black Dog Farm, where two Night Hawks, part of the group involved in finding the dead man on the beach, have called in hearing multiple gun shots from the farmhouse. Upon investigation, it’s found that two people are dead from those gun shots. The setting of Black Dog Farm will be a large part of the mystery, with tentacles of connection reaching near and far. Ruth becomes involved in an excavation of the farmhouse yard that answers questions, but not the expected ones. As with all the books in this series, the author masterfully lets readers know that there is danger right around the corner, but we are still thrillingly surprised when it strikes.
My reviews of this series inevitably reach a point where I extol the brilliance of the author’s characters. Ruth has struggled in her quiet way as she searches for a personal life as fulfilling as her professional one. I feel like she’s finally accepting what she can and can’t change about herself and her world. Nelson, who would guffaw at the word growth, has shown himself capable of an emotional growth readers wouldn’t have believed possible in the beginning. And, the supporting cast of the series has brought us the fan favorite of Cathbad, the captivating Druid, whom Griffiths has integrated so smoothly into the lives of Ruth and Nelson. The police officers Nelson commands—Judy and Tanya and newcomer Tony and moved-on Cloughie (moved on but still around)—bring their own stories and drama to the case at hand, which enrich and often relate to it. Even Michelle is no longer the cardboard cutout pretty wife from the beginning. She has been shaken to the core, and had to face some harsh realities of life. And, can it really have been ten years, almost eleven, since Kate was born. She is now becoming a character in her own right, too. Smart, perceptive, kind, and inquisitive. I can’t wait to see what Elly Griffiths does with Kate as the child becomes a pre-teen and then a teen. The same care and attention to detail is taken with the development of new characters for each story. In The Night Hawks, readers are introduced to David Brown, whom Ruth hires to replace her as a lecturer at NNU. It’s a twisted, intriguing road the author leads us on with David before we know what he’s about. In short, there is simply no author writing that does characters any better than Elly Griffiths.
Another element that makes this series so exceptional is the inclusion of the myths and legends Norfolk is famous for. Who better to guide us through these oddities of interest than Cathbad, whose Druid beliefs predisposes him to have great respect for the history and importance of these tales. His knowledge of the area and its otherworldly connections is an invaluable aid to the police in helping solve some of their cases, especially in conjunction with Ruth’s findings. Of particular interest in The Night Hawks is the legend of the Black Dog or the Black Shuck, a giant black dog whose red glowing eyes are a portent of death when someone sees him. And, he is seen more than once in this story, as the body count piles up. The clever weaving of the legends into the storylines is one of my favorite aspects of the Ruth Galloway mysteries. Elly Griffiths seems to accomplish this integration with perfection, creating the suggestion of other forces at play, but never an outright declaration of their effect. The setting of the saltmarshes is cleverly used to its best advantage of being a place that can be magical and spiritual.
There is lots happening in this thirteenth book of the Ruth Galloway series. Elly Griffiths has given us yet another multi-layered tale with plenty of action and plenty of emotion. And, as always, she has left us wanting more. In fact, readers shouldn’t be surprised if they find themselves wanting to reread The Night Hawks. I don’t often read a book twice, as there are just so many books I’m trying to get to, but I do plan to read The Night Hawks again. It spoke to me that strongly, and I think readers, especially the many already established fans, will find this book unforgettable.
Thanks to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin for an advanced copy of The Night Hawks.