The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths

The Lantern Men: Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries 12 (The Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries) by [Griffiths, Elly]The Ruth Galloway mystery series, of which The Lantern Men is the twelfth novel, is one that's best read in order if you don't want spoilers - while each one has a standalone crime plot, storylines about the many regular characters' personal lives do carry over from book to book, so if you're thinking of reading this series start with the first book and perhaps don't read this review.

Set in Norfolk and making full use of the eerily flat, empty landscape of the north Norfolk coast, the books feature Ruth, a forensic archaeologist who moonlights from her academic career by lending her services as a consultant and expert witness to the police in murder cases. Complicating matters is Ruth's uneasy and unresolved relationship with Harry Nelson, the detective who heads up the CID team - the two have a long history and one of their occasional nights together nearly a decade ago resulted in a daughter, Kate. The complicating factor is that Nelson is married and already has two grown-up daughters with his wife Michelle - and now, just to throw another spanner in the works, a toddler son, George.

The crime plot of this particular book sees a serial killer, Ivor March, awaiting sentencing for the murder of a number of women. March refuses to admit his guilt and both his girlfriend and his ex-wife also insist upon his innocence. Ruth hasn't been involved in the case - since the end of the last book, she's moved to Cambridge to take up a new position at the university there and to move in with Frank, an American academic, in an attempt to move on from her perpetual on-off affair with Nelson. But an anonymous note suggesting that she should be brought on board, and Ivor March's sudden announcement that he will reveal the locations of another two bodies on the one condition that Ruth is the one to perform the excavation, drags her back into the action - and back to her cottage on her beloved Norfolk salt marsh.

The Lantern Men is up to the standard I've come to expect from Elly Griffiths - it's atmospheric, witty, observant and the recurring characters are immensely likeable, yet believably flawed. The mystery itself is a gripping one and, with its connection to the legend of the lantern men who lure away walkers on the marsh, really rather creepy. Ivor March, a member of a sort of hippy arts collective in which everyone seems to be having a relationship with everyone else, would be an odious man if even if he were not a convicted murderer, and his various associates are excellent examples of the type of men who dress up predatory behaviour as bohemian sexual liberation.

However, Ruth's personal life is as important in The Lantern Men as her involvement in the murder case. She's settled in Cambridge and enjoying her job there - it's a much more prestigious one than her post at the University of North Norfolk, although she notes with interest that the students don't seem to be any cleverer. Her relationship with Frank seems harmonious enough and Kate, who seems to have inherited Nelson's assertive confidence, is happy too, especially now that she has a proper relationship with her two grown-up half-sisters as well as baby George. But it can't be denied that, for the reader, Ruth seems out of place away from the salt marsh and, it has to be said, away from Nelson. There's a lot to draw Ruth back to Norfolk, and I'll be keen to see if and how this pans out if there's a thirteenth book in the series.