The Chalk Pit: review

Author: Elly Griffiths

Series: The Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries (#9)

Genre: Crime/mystery

Publisher: Quercus

Publication date: 23 February 2017 (UK; hardcover)

Print length: 384 pages

Available from: Amazon

Synopsis

the chalk pitBoiled human bones have been found in Norwich’s web of underground tunnels. When Dr Ruth Galloway discovers they were recently buried, DCI Nelson has a murder enquiry on his hands. The boiling might have been just a medieval curiosity – now it suggests a much more sinister purpose.

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour that she’s gone ‘underground’. This might be a figure of speech, but with the discovery of the bones and the rumours both Ruth and the police have heard that the network of old chalk-mining tunnels under Norwich is home to a vast community of rough sleepers, the clues point in only one direction. Local academic Martin Kellerman knows all about the tunnels and their history – but can his assertions of cannibalism and ritual killing possibly be true?

As the weather gets hotter, tensions rise. A local woman goes missing and the police are under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of The Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk at its heart – before it claims another victim.

Review

Who dives into a series on book nine? I do, apparently, given that I read The Chalk Pit without having read any of the preceding Dr Ruth Galloway novels. The synopsis appealed, as did the writer’s recent award: the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library 2016.

Stumbling upon a writer mid-series is something of a habit for me, and one I don’t bother to curb. The best writers – like Elly Griffiths – can pull in a brand-new reader at book two or five or ten; there’s sufficient explanation of what’s gone before to ground the reader, and it’s easy to settle into a story world that’s handled with confidence by the by-now experienced author.

The Chalk Pit surpassed all my expectations by being a thoroughly humane crime novel. The darkness is pushed to the fringe by warm, vivid relationships between characters – even the homeless people who could easily have been two-dimensional. There is quite a cast of characters to keep up with, and they’re a motley (and largely likeable) lot that feel tangible: the loves-to-speed policeman, the accomplished academic who sits alone in a playground full of other mothers.

There’s a lot of warmth to the writing, and wit, but also an undercurrent of poignancy that ebbs and flows, particularly with relation to characters’ personal issues. At times I felt these issues threatened to eclipse other elements of the story, pushing the central crime and mystery from centre stage; I’d have loved a little more emphasis on archaeology, and more to shock me in the denouement. But overall, I did care about the central characters, especially lonely Ruth.

The best thing about starting a series on book nine: you know that if you enjoy the book, you have eight books in the same vein to add to your ‘to be read’ list. Will I do so? Absolutely, and I look forward to reading whatever Elly Griffiths has in store next.

My rating:

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.