Of all the Ruth Galloways I’ve read, this is the one I liked least. Not that it would convince me to abandon the series, that, I still adore and anticipate the next read and the one after that, until, alas, I’ll have to wait for the next book to be published.
In The Dark Angel, Griffiths transports her protagonists, Dr. Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson, to Italy, where they become involved in a murder investigation. The blurb sets out some of the details for us:
It’s not often that you’re called to the Italian countryside on business, so when archaeologist Angelo Morelli asks for Ruth Galloway’s help identifying bones found in picturesque Fontana Liri, she jumps at the chance to go, bringing her daughter along for a working vacation. Upon arriving, she hears murmurs of Fontana Liri’s strong resistance movement during World War II, and senses the townspeople have a deeply buried secret. But how could that connect to the ancient remains she’s been studying? Just as she’s getting her footing in the dig, DCI Nelson appears, unexpectedly and for no clear reason. When Ruth’s findings lead them to a modern-day murder, their holidays are both turned upside down, as they race to find out what darkness is lurking in this seemingly peaceful town.
Be warned, dear reader, that I will discuss the series’ happenings and bring about SPOILERS. If you’re keen on reading from book #1, and I encourage you to do so, you may want to return to the review in future.
I’ve realized that one of my favourite things on the blog is to foil the publisher’s blurb. 😉 Truth be told, Ruth jumps at the chance to go to Italy (accompanied by her friend, Shona, and Shona’s son, Louis, whose relationship with Ruth’s daughter, Kate, makes for the only comic relief) because her relationship with Harry, ever complicated, has become more so. Secondly, though Harry, because reasons, is still with his wife Michelle, he goes to Italy when he sees there’s been an earthquake in the region and is worried about Ruth and, as he calls her to Ruth’s annoyance, their daughter, “Katie”.
I respect that Griffiths was trying out something out of the series-ordinary in The Dark Angel, but it didn’t quite come together as the other series novels do. The setting is beautifully rendered and the murder, compellingly atmospheric. The novel’s best parts are the personal ones, when Ruth, Harry, and Kate are together (though Harry is antsy to return to his work and family in Norfolk, he clearly is in love with Ruth and relishes the time he spends with her and Kate). Ruth is as in love with Harry as he is with her, but her response to him is understandable, given that he won’t leave his family and every encounter is both joyful and fraught with heartache. What didn’t work was the entire murder investigation: other than the atmospheric crime scene, the resolution was rushed and lacked the depth the others in the series have. Moreover, I think The Dark Angel, because of location and circumstance, lacked the wit and wisdom and commitment to justice that Harry’s team brings to every investigation, with Ruth’s involvement making it even better. In the meanwhile, to give the novel a double-setting, Griffiths chose to add another suspenseful element by bringing danger to Harry’s family when he’s away. With the exception of the marvellously dramatic, and yet most lovable, involvement of Harry’s German shepherd, Bruno, this too remained underdevelopped, though on a personal level, for the characters, it bodes yet more complications … sadly, it also puts an end to Ruth and Harry’s relationship … for now.
Like Ruth’s response to Italy, beautiful yes, but strangely alien in a way that makes her yearn for Norfolk, I yearned for Griffiths to return to Norfolk, Ruth’s coastal cottage, her university life, and Harry and his team (I especially missed Clough, but Griffiths did manage to give me some of Judy Johnson and Cathbad). Kate, thank the reading gods, is as irrepressible as ever and the dark looks she threw Louis’s way were most welcome and amusing. Shona, flaky and amoral as we’ve seen before, and my least favourite character, we saw too much of. Still, even with my moues of dissatisfaction, I still love the series and look forward to #11, The Stone Circle.