The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

IMG_0097Anthropologist Ruth Galloway is back in the latest from Elly Griffiths, The Chalk Pit. As usual, there’s a lot going on in King’s Lynn.

This time, we find Ruth preparing to head underground to examine human remains uncovered during a routine soil sampling process. At the same time, Ruth’s quasi partner DCI Harry Nelson and his police squad are dealing with several incidents: a hungover student reporting a man who appeared and disappeared in front of her car in the middle of the night, a homeless man reporting the disappearance of a fellow street dweller, and a sink hole that suddenly opened in the middle of a busy road.

It’s typical of Griffiths to introduce several story strands in the first couple of chapters, so it’s no surprise when all of those stories come together into a single fat braid. Griffiths skillfully blends in well-researched pieces of history and interesting facts about the King’s Lynn-Norwich area to her books, with the Chalk Tunnels being the star here. The chalk mining tunnels take center stage, as Ruth searches for the answer to the human remains, which appear to have been boiled, while Nelson and his team pursue a villain who has kidnapped three women and “taken them underground.” Wrapping around all the mystery is the continuing unrequited relationship between Ruth and Nelson. Clearly they want to be with each other, but both have misgivings or other commitments. And, as if their already complicated personal situation wasn’t complex enough, Griffiths introduces two major life experiences here – a death and an impending birth. As usual, their relationship ups and downs drive the story forward.

This is the 9th entry in the Ruth Galloway series, and they just keep getting better. Very often, a series has a single focus – it’s a mystery, it’s a thriller, etc. – and the author excels at the genre, but isn’t always able to build a convincing world for their characters. Griffiths does that masterfully in the Galloway series. The mystery is a part of the world, something to be handled and managed and solved, but the core of the story is always the characters and their relationships with one another. While Ruth and Nelson are the apex characters, Griffiths has spent a good deal of time fleshing out the supporting characters, which makes them and their world real.

At the end of this, I am left impatiently waiting for the next entry, and pondering the question, “Who’s the father?” If you haven’t read the previous 8 books, go get them, binge read 1-9, and then grab up #10 as soon as it comes out.