Quercus | 2017 | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book
The streets of Norwich lie above a maze of tunnels and quarry pits and when a restaurant owner decides he wishes to turn one of the caverns into a trendy, moody restaurant he’s more than a little put out to have his plans put on hold by the discovery of human bones. Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist, is called in to take a look and she discovers that these bones might not be medieval or even old at all. Not only that, they rather have the look about them that they’ve been boiled. DCI Harry Nelson is intrigued but his intention is focused on Barbara Murray, a kind homeless woman who has disappeared off the streets amid rumours that she has gone ‘underground’. And she isn’t alone. It’s not long before the police find themselves with a murderer to hunt.
As with all the books in this wonderful series (The Chalk Pit is the ninth), the detective case forms just one part of the novel, engrossing though it certainly is. The heart of The Chalk Pit lies with its characters and their absorbing relationships, especially the long-running, complex relationship between Ruth (a single mother) and the married Nelson. But there are others, too, that are just as significant. This does mean that you’re better off reading the series in order because these are relationships you’ll want to watch develop (or un-develop).
Having said all that, The Chalk Pit does stand alone perfectly as a crime novel and it isn’t difficult to pick up what’s happened with Ruth, Nelson and the others. This is one of those series that I’m relatively late to (I’ve read four, normally while on camping holidays in Norfolk where these books are set!) and so I’m reading it in a very strange order (from the beginning and from the end, hoping to catch myself up in the middle) and this hasn’t stopped me from falling in love with Ruth and Nelson, little Kate, Judy and Cathbad, and even Cloughie.
Although The Chalk Pit deals with serious crimes the book itself, like the others, has a warm feeling to it. The mystery isn’t entirely plausible, nor are all of the characters, and not all of the loose ends are tied up, but this is all part of the sizeable charm of the book and of Elly Griffith’s wonderful writing, which clearly cares for the people it describes. The issue of homelessness is treated with feeling, not grit. Ruth’s involvement in the main plot is almost incidental but she is still central to the novel and she gives it such heart. She has her flaws, as do we all, and they only add to her appeal, and the same can be said for Nelson.
It’s no insult to describe this series as cosy crime. It’s how I think of it and I adore it. I love the Norfolk setting, I love the eccentricity of the characters and the way that they relate to one another. Nelson is having a bit of a hard time understanding his new boss (and possibly women in general) and I rather enjoy his bewilderment. The historical element, although not as present in this book as in some of the others, is also something I love. It always takes me a chapter or two to get used to the present tense but after that I’m completely enthralled by Elly Griffith’s prose.
I will never tire of Ruth and Nelson. I’m looking forward to following them to their retirement at the very least!
I’m delighted to post this review as part of the Blog Tour. For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.