After that at best forgettable romantic suspense, it was great to be back with Ruth, Kate, DCI Harry Nelson and his team, and the delicious complications of their personal lives amidst a series of crimes, a decades-long missing child, the murder of a King’s Lynn eccentric, and thank the reading gods after the last book’s Italian setting, Norfolk-set in the fog, rain, and cold.
The Stone Circle is definitely a Ruth Galloway which sees the past impinge on the present like the tides that rise near Ruth’s cottage, both in terms of the crime and the lives of its detecting figures. The publisher’s blurb will provide further detail:
DCI Nelson has been receiving threatening letters telling him to ‘go to the stone circle and rescue the innocent who is buried there’. He is shaken, not only because children are very much on his mind, with Michelle’s baby due to be born, but because although the letters are anonymous, they are somehow familiar. They read like the letters that first drew him into the case of The Crossing Places, and to Ruth. But the author of those letters is dead. Or are they?
Meanwhile Ruth is working on a dig in the Saltmarsh – another henge, known by the archaeologists as the stone circle – trying not to think about the baby. Then bones are found on the site, and identified as those of Margaret Lacey, a twelve-year-old girl who disappeared thirty years ago.
As the Margaret Lacey case progresses, more and more aspects of it begin to hark back to that first case of The Crossing Places, and to Scarlett Henderson, the girl Nelson couldn’t save. The past is reaching out for Ruth and Nelson, and its grip is deadly.
The bearing the past has on the present is treated in a more reflective fashion than the blurb’s somewhat sensationalist final sentence. Ruth often ruminates how the past plays its role in the present, how it should be studied and respected. Griffiths’ themes are always about solving a crime to put the past to rest, offer restitution to lives lost unjustly, and let their rest-in-peace give way to the living being able to carry on, even thrive.
The Stone Circle afforded me all the reading pleasure I expect from this series and left me eager for the next title, The Lantern Men. Nelson still has the soft-core of a blustery man and Ruth is as intrepid, independent, and intellectual as ever. They make a great pair and I do wish, some day, Griffiths brings them together. I think Griffiths didn’t have the referential breadth in The Dark Angel that she has in these England-set novels, though I know her ties to Italy are close and her knowledge, solid. With The Stone Circle, she returns to the wonderful dialogue between Ruth and Harry, where her knowledge and his merge and collaborate to solve the case. From the start, this was so with this wonderful exchange about the letters Harry received, hearkening to the case that first brought them together:
“There are certainly similarities,” she says. “The way he addresses you personally, the Biblical references. ‘Oh man of little faith.’ ” “That’s Doubting Thomas, isn’t it?” says Nelson. “The one who doesn’t believe that Jesus has come back from the dead.” “Full marks for religious knowledge.” “He’s one of my favourite characters. Always ask for evidence. Thomas would have made a good policeman.”
Every time there’s an exchange between Ruth and Harry, I can’t help but think that Griffiths points to Harry’s marriage as one where husband and wife married young, out of love and stayed that way throughout their lives, but now it’s over … neither is prepared to admit this. With Harry and Ruth, there’s a symbiosis, despite their opposites-attract conservative-to-liberal and copper-to-academic differences, of mind, curiosity, and temperament. It’s both delicious and maddening that Griffiths brings them together and keeps them apart. The crime is fascinating, atmospherically-set, and tragic, but it’s not what brings me back to the series, other than the henges and Ruth’s digging, I do love those too.
Ruth is as in love with Nelson and he is with her, but we do see her try to move on in The Stone Circle, with a pretty nice guy, an American (forgivable), but Ruth’s response to him after a night of love-making saw me eye-roll and nod sagely “me too, Ruth, me too”:
Ruth has a lightning shower and then goes back to her room. Frank is awake, rubbing his eyes. “Hi, baby,” he says to Ruth. Baby? What’s happened to them? “I must get dressed,” says Ruth. “Kate and I need to leave at eight.”
It’s a hoot that Harry often has fantasies of “deporting Frank” and Ruth’s cat, the disdainful Flint, is in love with Frank and rebuffs Harry with a contemptuous tail-swish.
I absolutely loved The Stone Circle. It held all the pleasures of this series: a complex crime more about family ties and tragedies and the interweaving of its resolution with the lives of some of my favourite characters. If you’ve read the series, then you’ll know what I’m talking about; if you haven’t, please start at the beginning and get the entire magnificent arc of Ruth and Harry, Cloughie and Judy, Cathbad, and the friends, children, and pets who make up their world. With Miss Austen, we sighed with Norfolk’s return relief and deem The Stone Circle “no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Elly Griffiths’s The Stone Circle is published by Mariner Books. It was released in May 2019 and may be found, along with the rest of the series books, at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Mariner Books, on Edelweiss+, for the purpose of writing this review.