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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

December 1, 2018

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:  New York City
2018 (HC)

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway finds herself on quite holiday in the beautiful and bucolic hill country of central Italy an hour or so south of Rome—an earthquake, the murder of a beloved priest, and a near-fatal automobile accident—all in the span of less than two weeks!

In this, one of the very best entries in this outstanding mystery series, Ruth agrees to come to the aid of an acquaintance from her past—Italian archaeologist and star of the popular television series, I Segreti del Passato (Secrets of the Past), Angelo Morelli—as he puzzles through the mystery of a 2,000 year old Roman-era burial on the outskirts of the village of Castello degli Angeli.  He pleads for her help as the skeletal remains have been found buried face down with a stone lodged in its mouth—decidedly atypical of Roman burials.  Adding to Angelo’s discomfort is the iPhone found in the skeleton’s grasp and its text message to him, reading “Surprise!”

The recent death of her mother, the complicated on-again, off-again relationship with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, who is also the father of her young daughter Kate, and the equally complicated affair between Nelson’s wife and his former detective colleague, Tim Heathfield, convinces Ruth to pack up her daughter and fly off to Italy with her friend Shona Trent and her young son Louis.  Needless to say, Ruth’s personal life is something of a mess and the archaeological holiday in sunny Italy, far removed from dark and dreary environs of East Anglia, seems the perfect getaway, especially since Ruth and Angelo Morelli had had a brief romantic fling a dozen years or so earlier.

Her inclination to aid Angelo seem to have paid off as the beauty of the town and surrounding area is soothing to the weary soul and the archaeology is stimulating.  But as readers of Ruth Galloway’s adventures have come to realize, things never go well for very long for the star-crossed archaeologist.  Ruth and her little entourage may not be entirely welcome in the quiet little town and in fact, there may be some local denizens who are not entirely happy with Angelo’s Roman-era dig.  Ruth learns that the past, whether it be 2000 years ago or as recently as the partisan struggles of World War II are never forgotten and never lie very far below the surface of village life.

An earthquake rattles the area and the graveyard of the village Church of San Michele e Santa Angeli, unused for nearly one hundred years, yields up the remains of a local Resistance hero, Georgio Bianchi, missing since his capture by the Nazis during the Occupation.  In the small world of Castello degli Angeli, Georgio was the best friend of Angelo’s grandfather and Resistance hero and also the great grandfather of Angelo’s graduate assistant Marta Bianchi.

The octogenarian priest, Don Tomaso, asks to share some important information with Ruth but before that can happen he is found brutally murdered at the foot of the altar of his church.  It is obvious that Ruth has gotten a bit over her head in this idyllic Italian setting, and it becomes even more obvious when she and Shona and the children are nearly driven off the twisting hill leading to Castello degli Angeli by a motorist intent on murder.  Old memories and old grudges live on in the hill town and Ruth and her friends, including the bumbling Harry Nelson, must find the answers before it’s too late for all of them.

The writing is crisp, the plotting intricate, and the character development is satisfying in this, the tenth Ruth Galloway mystery.  Four trowels for The Dark Angel.