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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

February 1, 2018

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:  New York
2017 (HC)

Elly Griffiths’ ninth Ruth Galloway mystery is among the very best of this splendid series that chronicles the adventures of the British forensic archaeologist living and working in the East Anglia county of Norfolk.

Real estate developer Quentin Swan hopes to build a posh up-scale café beneath the old Guildhall of the county seat, Norwich.  His well-conceived plans suffer a setback when human remains are unearthed in the chalk tunnel beneath the Guildhall.  The discovery requires an archaeological investigation and Ruth Galloway and University of North Norfolk field archaeologist Ted Houlihan are hired to conduct the excavation.  The incomplete skeletal remains are thought likely to be medieval, given the age of the tunnel system that honeycombs subterranean Norwich.  Despite Quentin Swan’s desire to forge on with his project, Ruth insists that work remain idled until a carbon-14 analysis can be run at the University lab.  Ruth is equally ill at ease because the bones show signs of cut marks and “pot polish” from boiling—telltale hints of possible cannibalism!

Concurrent with Ruth’s project, other events are unfolding within confines of greater Norwich that will test the resolve of Ruth and her friends at the King’s Lynn police headquarters, including Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson—the father of her daughter Kate—and other friends and family members.

Grace Miller,  late night joyriding college student reports a late-night Jesus-like apparition appearing and then disappearing on Denning Road in the vicinity of a seven foot wide, eight foot deep chalk mine sinkhole  near Norwich; a homeless man (rough sleeper, in British parlance), “Aftershave Eddie,” reports to DCI Nelson that his friend Barbara Murray—also a rough sleeper—has disappeared.  Nelson’s squad members are dispatched to follow up on the missing woman and rumors begin to swirl about the homeless community, especially from the testimony of another rough sleeper Bilbo, that Barbara has “gone underground.” While there are a myriad of reasons why a homeless person might disappear from the scene, the brutal stabbing deaths of Eddie and Bilbo strongly suggest that the homeless of Norwich might very well be under siege by a pitiless killer.  When local women, including the fiancé of Nelson’s right-hand man Dave Clough, disappear, the situation grows increasingly desperate.  Academic inquiries by Ruth –C14 analysis indicates the bones are only ten to fifty years old–and the investigative skills of Nelson and his squad combine to ferret out the identity and whereabouts of a possible serial killer—and the signs alarmingly point to the chalk pits beneath Norwich and the possible existence of a subterranean society beneath Norwich.

This mystery crafted by Elly Griffith is masterful, as always, and she continues to flesh out her characters ever more deftly.  Four trowels for The Chalk Pit.