REVIEW: Elly Griffiths’s THE LANTERN MEN (Ruth Galloway #12)

The_Lantern_MenI am nearing the finish-line to the Ruth Galloway series, with only the most recent left to read, the June-released Nighthawks, before I join the thousands of readers awaiting the next installment. Chatting with a fellow-reader in church today, we agreed it’s time for Dr. Galloway and DCI Nelson to be together, pretty please, Ms Griffiths …

Like the previous eleven, The Lantern Men sees the familiar team, this time initially separated by choice or circumstance, come together to find a serial killer’s missing and murdered women (the women are long-buried and I can vouch, for the squeamish, that nothing gross, or violent appears in the novel; sentiments are terrible, but descriptive physical detail is at a minimum). Here are further details from the publisher’s blurb:

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway changed her life—until a convicted killer tells her that four of his victims were never found, drawing her back to the place she left behind.

I don’t have an order of preference for my beloved Ruth Galloways other than to say The Dark Angel and possibly this one, The Lantern Men, are my least favourite. While I loved everything about the characters’ relationships, I had a few quibbles with the mystery.

When the novel opens, Harry and Michelle’s “baby,” George, is two and a half; Ruth is teaching at Cambridge and living with a fellow academic, Frank Barker (Nelson still fantasizes about deporting American-born Frank and this continues to delight me); Judy Johnson passed her inspector’s exams and will probably take over when Harry retires; Cloughie, whom I adore, heads up his own team in Cambridgeshire. Nelson and Judy have been occupied with solving and convicting Ivor March, but when Ivor asks for Ruth to lead a search into more bodies, and another woman is found dead in a similar MO, the disparate “team” come together to unravel what is more complicated than at first appears.

Griffiths initially splitting up the characters caused me no end of anxiety, but when Ruth and Kate are mesmerized by Harry’s TV media conference about March, I knew all would be well, even if Frank was ever-present and so damnably amiable. Maybe not well-well crime-wise just yet, but well for me to once again enjoy Ruth and Harry, Kate and adoring half-brother, George, Cloughie, Judy, Cathbad and their various children and pets. I’ve especially enjoyed how Griffiths has recently developped the character of Harry’s eldest daughter, Laura, and Cathbad’s Maddie too.

More than anything, I loved being immersed in the characters’ relationships, thoughts, and feelings. Griffiths writes with a combination of humour and pathos and still manages to make her characters unique, distinguishable. For example, I adore DCI Harry Nelson and his can’t-help-myself feelings for Ruth Galloway:

Nelson says yes to coffee. He doesn’t mind instant, unlike Ruth who favours the proper bitter Italian stuff, preferably bought from a shop that pays its fair share of UK taxes. But he mustn’t think about Ruth.

… Ruth had come to Norfolk from London and she, too, loved the marshes. But not enough to stop her buggering off to Cambridge. Don’t think about Ruth.

Humour, pathos, and Harry’s unique argot. I’m with Ruth on coffee and marshes and I too love Harry Nelson. We segue to Ruth, in Cambridge, recalling when she first met Harry: “Ruth thinks of the first time she met Nelson. He had come to ask her advice about some buried bones. She remembers him standing in the corridor, looking too big, too serious, too grown-up for his surroundings.” In Harry, Griffiths writes the most likeable alpha-man hero I’ve read.

What I loved about The Lantern Men was how the characters tried to move on with their lives (maybe not Nelson, he’s a rock of stability and tarnished honour … given the teensy infidelity business). But the pull of the marshes, the call of a case to restore justice and give families answers about their loved ones, and the pleasure of being together bring everyone back into the DCI Nelson fold.

I especially adore exchanges between Harry and Ruth:

‘Nelson, it’s Ruth.’ ‘Ruth! What’s up? Is it Katie?’ A familiar sigh. “Kate’s fine. I was ringing because … well, Phil came to see me today.’ ‘Phil Trent? The dickhead you left in charge of forensic archaeology when you buggered off to Cambridge?’ Another, longer sigh. ‘I didn’t “bugger off”, Nelson, I left for a better job. Just like you did when you moved to Norfolk.’ ‘I’ve regretted it ever since.’ ‘I’m sure that’s not true.’ She’s probably right but Nelson is not in the mood to admit that there’s anything good about any county south of Lancashire. He counters with, ‘It was Katie I was worried about.’ ‘She’s fine,’ says Ruth. ‘Doing really well at school. You came to her last parents’ evening.’ ‘She’s a little star.’ ‘She is … ‘

Comfort and familiarity have set in for Ruth and Harry. One of the best scenes is when they share a companionable lunch, even their orders (roast and Yorkshire pudding for Harry; fish pie for Ruth) tell you everything you need to know about them and how they belong together. When we first met Harry and Ruth, it was all about attraction and need, now their relationship is deeper and where sex didn’t take them, I hope their compatibility does.

As for the mystery, Griffiths always does such a great job of linking crime to local legend. This is true of the story of the “lantern men.” She also does a great job of showing a web of immorality and deceit among a group of people who once lived communally and are the key to discovering what happened to the murdered, buried women. I found the solution lacklustre and the dénouement drawn out, but this isn’t why I read Griffiths’ series. I’ll happily be back for my final volume and anticipate the next one. With Miss Austen, we agree The Lantern Men offered “real comfort,” Emma.

Elly Griffiths’s The Lantern Men is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It was released in July 2020 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from HMH, via Netgalley, for the purpose of writing this review.

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