In a windblown field near the sea in Norfolk, England, a land developer’s excavating machine uncovers first a silver wing, then the cockpit of an American World War II fighter plane, then the ghostly remains of a long-dead pilot staring up from inside.
Enter forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, the central character in the engrossing mystery series by author Elly Griffiths. Like the previous books in the series, The Ghost Fields combines an atmosphere of eerie beauty, a reach that manages to encompass millennia and a style of low-key, dry humor that’s just plain satisfying.
The discovery of the grisly human remains ignites a series of mysteries. (The body, by the way, is not that of the plane’s pilot.) Soon Ruth and company are investigating throughout the Norfolk countryside, from the developer’s digging site to a derelict WWII American airfield—one of many known as “ghost fields”—to an old family estate whose lands date back to the Iron Age and may contain a few more skeletons in the closet—and elsewhere.
The success of Griffiths’ series is due in no small part to central character Ruth and a creative, comfortable cast of characters, including a couple of druids, one or two mismatched couples who nevertheless make a match, a crazy British family living out in the wilds and, of course, the irreplaceable DCI Nelson, a cop for all seasons if there ever was one. Nelson’s unconventional social skills make him one of the more intriguing antiheroes to come down the pike in ages. He’s irresistible precisely because he seems to be clueless about the depth of his relationship with Ruth. Though Griffiths describes him as “not a fanciful man,” we’re drawn to his blind spots as well as his sturdy confidence as he works alongside his three detective sergeants, who play no small role in the proceedings. The author’s addictive sense of humor raises the series a cut above the ordinary—not loudmouth, wise-guy humor, but rather more subtle and lasting.
Add to this the book’s salty, desolate atmosphere of endless marsh and lonely, ancient sands, and the book achieves a shivery aura of mystery you won’t soon shake, one that laces past with present in the inescapable march of time.