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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

July 1, 2015

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:  New York
2015 (HC)

The “ghost fields” of Elly Griffith’s seventh Ruth Galloway mysteries refers to the abandoned World War II airfields that dot the Norfolk countryside of northeast England.  It is one such field, located at the ominously named Devil’s Hollow that serves as the focal point of this complex tale, in which an earth mover exposes a nearly intact American fighter plane at the site of a new luxury apartment development.  Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist at the University of North Norfolk, is called in from her nearby Bronze Age site field school, to examine the amazingly well-preserved body of the pilot.  Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson declares the area a crime scene when Ruth discovers a bullet hole in the middle of the pilot’s forehead!

Several months later, dental records and DNA analysis have identified the dead pilot as Frederick Blackstock, a member of a prominent British family that has dwelled in nearby Blackstock Hall for untold generations.  DCI Nelson learns from his inquiries with the family that Frederick was the middle son of the World War II generation of Blackstocks.  There was the elder Lewis, who was a POW that disappeared and was presumed dead after his return from the war and the younger son George, Sr., still alive, who was too young to fight, but inherited Blackstock Hall when Frederick, who emigrated to America before the War, was shot down and presumed dead as a member of the U.S. Army Air Force.  The mystery grows murkier when Nelson learns that Frederick was a tail gunner on a B-17 bomber, not a fighter pilot!

Ruth is drawn back into the mystery of the downed airman when she is re-united with Frank Barker, American television academic, who will be shooting a documentary on U.S. airmen in World War II Britain for his TV series, The History Men.  Norfolk and the Blackstock family will be the focus of the program because the series’ creators have determined that the downed pilot in the buried fighter will make for amazing storytelling—especially since Frederick Blackstock’s daughter Nell, heretofore unknown to the family,  intends to visit the family manor house for her father’s memorial service.  The drama of the situation could not be better as far as the television people are concerned.

Mysteries swirl around the Blackstock family, including vicious attacks on Cassandra Blackstock, granddaughter of George Sr., and Detective Sergeant Dave Clough, one of Nelson’s investigating team, a mysterious stranger at Frederick’s memorial service, and the discovery of recent human remains at the pig farm owned and run by Chaz Blackstock, George Sr.’s grandson and brother to Cassandra.  For generations there had been whispered stories of a curse upon Blackstock Hall and its environs—and the recent developments certainly seemed to add some credence to those rumors.

The Ghost Fields is in a sense, an homage to the old-fashioned British whodunit.  The intense conclusion to this puzzling finds Ruth trapped in a storm-wracked Blackstock Hall with a possible murderer—a stock scene from innumerable manor house mysteries, but one exceedingly well done, with an appropriately unanticipated plot twist at the very end.

Four enthusiastic Trowels for The Ghost Fields!