Quercus | 2020 (6 February) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book
The Lantern Men is the twelfth novel in Elly Griffiths’ absolutely sensational Ruth Galloway series and how happy I am to see it and to see her. It does stand alone but I really think that you need to have read at least a few to feel its impact, because at the heart of this novel, and of all the novels, lies its characters, more than the excellent mysteries, and by now we care what happens to them very much indeed. This review assumes that you know something of what has gone on between Ruth the well-known forensic archaeologist, and DCI Nelson.
Time has moved on for Ruth and now everything has changed. She’s left north Norfolk and moved to Cambridge where she teaches at the University. She even has a new partner, Frank. But the past always has a habit of catching up with Ruth and she will always be drawn back to the north Norfolk coast, where Nelson is doing his best to move his life on without her. A convicted murderer, Ivor March, makes a deal with Nelson. He will reveal where the remains of two missing women are buried in the fens, in an area believed haunted by the mysterious Lantern Men, but only if Ruth Galloway leads the excavations. Ruth has no choice. She returns to Norfolk and finds much more than she expected.
The mystery that The Lantern Men tells is such a strong one and this is a big part of the reason why I think that this book is at least a contender for my favourite book of the series. I’m loath to describe this as my favourite because there isn’t one of these books that I don’t adore and I want to do right by all of them. But this is such a strong novel and I loved its story. As a result, I’ll tell you nothing about it! You must discover it for yourself. But it kept me guessing all of the way though, and that doesn’t happen too often.
Ruth and Nelson’s story reaches another crisis point in The Lantern Men. I find their relationship, or non-relationship, engrossing. It couldn’t be more complicated and that is demonstrated here more than ever. I am so involved in Ruth and Nelson’s story and what a marvellous creation Ruth’s daughter Kate is. But other familiar characters return here, too, including Cathbad the druid, his detective wife Judy, and Nelson’s wife and daughters. There are others who pop up for very welcome cameo appearances.
And then there’s the fens and the north Norfolk coast. The locations are every bit as vital as the characters and they are described so evocatively. The strong sense of place is supported by the bewitching atmosphere, mood and broody beauty. It’s just gorgeous. Elly Griffiths writes so beautifully. I love how her characters feel so real and how the coastline and fens feel so sinister and beautiful and deeply loved (except by Nelson, of course) all at the same time. The fact that The Lantern Men is the twelfth in the series, and a contender for the best, demonstrates yet again how much mileage there is in these stories and, even though ten years have passed for Ruth, Nelson and us, there are still many more to go. And that is my dearest wish.
The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway 9)
The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway 10)
The Stone Circle (Ruth Galloway 11)
The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens and Mephisto 1)
The Vanishing Box (Stephens and Mephisto 4)
Now You See Them (Stephens and Mephisto 5)
The Stranger Diaries (stand alone)