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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

January 1, 2020

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:  Boston
2019 (HC)

In this, the eleventh entry in the outstanding Ruth Galloway mysteries, the reader encounters echoes of the very first entry in this series, The Crossing Places.  Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson and forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway receive arcane letters that harken back to children missing decades earlier—letters that allude to the poetry of T.S. Eliot, the Bible and Shakespeare, originally penned by a man dead for more than ten years.  Similarly, a second wooden henge is discovered by archaeologists on the same Saltmarsh where a younger Ruth had excavated the first such Bronze Age site.  But archaeologists refer to this second henge as a “stone circle,” because a stone cist or grave is found in the center of the site, and Ruth is called in to excavate the ancient burial of a young woman.  It is weirdly uncanny that DCI Nelson’s mysterious letter urges him to go to the stone circle.  To add to the synchronicity of events, Ruth discovers that Leif Anderssen, the son of Erik Anderssen, who was her mentor and principle excavator on the first henge project, and who met his tragic death on the Saltmarsh, is now the lithic expert on the latter day stone circle dig.

A second set of remains, this time the modern disarticulated bones of a young girl, are unearthed near the Bronze age burial and once again Ruth must apply her forensic skills to help Nelson and his staff solve a cold case dating back to 1981 when Margaret Lacey, then age 12, disappeared at a neighborhood street party celebrating the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.  Just as archaeological technique plays a major role in Ruth Galloway mysteries, so do the intricacies of police investigation, and it makes for fascinating reading to follow Nelson’s staff as they puzzle through the cold clues dating back some thirty five years to solve the mystery of Margaret Lacey’s murder.  This is a complex and satisfying mystery with a wide array of plausible villains, but as with any first-rate mystery writer—and Elly Griffiths is certainly first rate—the real villain turns out to be the least expected.  Four trowels for The Stone Circle.