The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

As I've written before in my reviews of Elly Griffiths' other books, I'm a big fan of the Ruth Galloway series  (all of which I've reviewed on this blog). Ruth herself, a forensic archaeologist, is tremendously likeable, and the series, in which The Ghost Fields is the seventh installment, also features a host of other recurring characters who are convincingly developed from story to story. If you've read any of the previous Ruth Galloway books and are already acquainted with these supporting characters, you'll feel like you're greeting old friends as they make their appearances here.

Image result for elly griffiths ghost fieldsThe Ghost Fields begins with the body of a Second World War fighter pilot unearthed in the buried wreckage of a plane - but Ruth, a local academic seconded to the police to provide expert advice, immediately sees that there's something wrong. The body is certainly that of a man who died in the 1940s, but the field in which he's found is certainly not where he died. More to the point, there's a bullet hole in his skull. Who is the mysterious lost pilot? How did he die? And who, exactly, had a motive for burying his body, not just once, but twice?

It soon becomes clear that the investigation will focus on the Blackstocks, an old, land-owning Norfolk family struggling to keep their increasingly dilapidated manor house standing. I greatly enjoyed meeting the Blackstocks, who are the sort of eccentric failing aristocrats that absolutely still exist in England, but who always seem hopelessly out of step with the 21st century and have sprung from a disturbingly small local gene pool. For all their oddness, I had no trouble believing that this family exists, and Griffiths' observations of them are full of the dry, astute humour that runs through all the books in the series.

The flat, bleak beauty of the North Norfolk coast is used to great effect in The Ghost Fields. Elly Griffiths is adept at creating atmosphere through landscape and a sense of place, and at making the history and geography of the area play a pivotal role in the plots of her novels, and she does this particularly well in this book.

As always, the investigation sees Ruth join forces with DCI Harry Nelson, who to complicate matters is the father of her young daughter Kate after an exceptionally brief affair five years previously, yet still happily married to beautiful Michelle. Generally speaking, I tend to be irritated by on-off, will-they-won't-they, love-hate pairings in fiction, yet somehow Griffiths manages to make the complicated relationship between Ruth and Nelson entirely sympathetic. Fundamentally, Ruth and Nelson are both decent people who try hard to do the right thing; moreover, Griffiths doesn't fall into the easy trap of making Nelson's wife Michelle a character we want to hate - Michelle may be a slim, attractive hairdresser, but she's far from the shallow stereotype she could so easily have become. Instead, she's an intelligent, capable, kind and forgiving woman: it's almost impossible not to like her, and we see a lot more in The Ghost Fields from Michelle's point of view than we have previously.

The crime plot of The Ghost Fields is a little crazy, but definitely in a good way - the investigation itself is one of my favourites in the series so far, and builds to an extremely gripping, fast-paced climax.

The Ghost Fields is an effortless read - I read it more or less one sitting while recovering from a rotten flu-ish cold, and it was the perfect page-turner for that. Despite an often sinister atmosphere, some horribly dark secrets and some genuinely gruesome goings-on, the recurring characters and the dry, observant humour of The Ghost Fields makes it, like the series overall, somehow comforting, not to mention highly immersive.

If you're interested in this series, I'd strongly recommend you read the books in the order of publication, as you'll get much more out of the characters, and understand Ruth and Nelson's relationship much better, if you do. The first in the series is The Crossing Places.