The Night Hawks (2021) is the latest entry in Elly Griffiths’ series about forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. (If you’re new to the series, there’s no better place to start than at the beginning, with The Crossing Places.) It’s the 13th outing for Ruth & Company, and one of my favorites for the deft combination of interesting plotting and appealing, believable characters. Griffiths deserves praise for maintaining a generally high quality through the series, continuing to advance her characters’ lives without resorting to cliché or outlandishness.
As the Night Hawks opens, Ruth has returned to Norfolk from a stint at Cambridge. Her return isn’t entirely like putting on a comfortable old pair of shoes: she has a new job with a new colleague and is still working through the personal decisions she made at the end of The Lantern Men (2020). But when some amateur archaeologists using metal detectors (or treasure hunters as I would call them here in the U.S.) unearth some Bronze Age artifacts, they also find a decidedly non-Bronze Age body. This brings Ruth back into the orbit of DCI Harry Nelson, her frequent colleague through the series and, incidentally, the father of her daughter, Katie. But after all that’s happened between them, personally and professionally, can they really fall back into old habits so easily?
I always enjoy the archaeology scenes, and this time there’s a spooky subplot involving a Norfolk legend about the ghostly Black Shuck, a giant dog whose appearance spells doom for anyone who sees him. This time around, he’s seen in and around the location of an apparent murder-suicide. Nelson is suspicious that some of the same amateur metal detectorists who found the body at the Bronze Age site were also witnesses of a sort to these deaths as well. Of course, his police colleague Judy and her husband, the druid Cathbad, once again their individual expertise to the situation.
I like the way Griffiths handles the complex personal relationships that result from Ruth and Harry’s entanglement, which encompasses not only Katie but Harry’s wife and two grown daughters and baby son. I know some readers get impatient with the incremental progress in this plot line from book to book, but for me, it seems appropriate given that such situations are seldom tidily resolved in real life. Still, by the end of The Night Hawks, we get hints of more monumental changes on the horizon.
But that will be for next year’s Book 14 to reveal. Until then, we can only speculate about where everyone will end up when the merry-go-round takes its final turn.