A DYING FALL
By: Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers: New York
Elly Griffiths continues to excel as an accomplished
mystery novelist in this, her fifth Ruth Galloway narrative. Forensic
archaeologist Ruth Galloway’s hectic after-work schedule is interrupted by a
call from an old college chum, who informs her that a fellow University
College London classmate, Daniel Golding, has died tragically in a house
fire in Lytham, near Blackpool in the far north of England. The news
saddens Ruth more than she expects—Dan Golding was the
swash-buckling-Indiana-Jones-most-likely-to-succeed member of their band of
archaeologists-in-training; yet apparently his career had led him to Pendle
University in Lytham, an obscure second-rate institution—and ultimately to
his untimely death ignominiously caused by faulty wiring.
But the very next day she receives a letter from Dan
Golding, forwarded by her university, and obviously sent just prior to his
death. In it he excitedly tells of a significant archaeological discovery
he has made near Ribchester, a rich Roman site in the Lancashire District.
He makes an oblique reference to the Raven King and beseeches her to come
and give him a second opinion on the bones he has unearthed. He closes by
confessing that the situation is “sensitive,” and that he is very afraid.
Because of this obvious but unnamed fear, Ruth asks her
friend and one-time lover DCI Harry Nelson if his old colleagues in the
Blackpool police department—Harry was born and bred in that area and served
there before transferring to his present position in Norfolk—have further
information on Dan Golding’s death. Nelson reports back that indeed there
are important additional details—Dan’s death is now a murder inquiry because
he was locked in his burning house from the outside and his mobile
telephone and laptop have gone missing.
Coincident with gaining this startling information,
Ruth receives a call from Clayton Henry, Dan Golding’s department chair at
Pendle University, who urges her to come to help identify the burial
remains from Dan’s excavation—the very same request Dan had made of her in
his letter. Ruth determines that she owes it to Dan’s memory and takes off
for the northern climes with her neo-Druid friend Cathbad, and her daughter
Kate. Harry Nelson fortuitously plans a vacation with his wife Michelle, to
visit his mother in Blackpool as well as his in-laws. That his daughter
Kate might be in harm’s way as Ruth heads into the teeth of a crime scene
gives Nelson no small incentive to fulfill his family obligations; and this
is without the knowledge that Ruth has received two phantom text messages,
warning her to stay away from Pendle!
Pendle University is every bit as depressing as Ruth
had imagined, but Clayton Henry does tell of a truly exciting discovery made
by Dan Golding and his small crew. They had unearthed the sarcophagus of a
5th Century AD warrior buried with great ceremony within a temple
dedicated to the Romano-Celtic god Bran (the Raven King) The inscription
on the tomb read “Rex Arthurus. Briannorum Rex”—King Arthur. King of the
Elly Griffith’s weaves a sinuous plot, following the
inquiries and discoveries of her protagonists. Ruth discovers that the
human skeleton unearthed by Dan Golding and deposited at the high-tech
laboratory of CNN Forensics, has been replaced by a false set of remains.
The only hope for any sort of identification rests with a few samples sent
to a U.S. lab for DNA analysis. Harry Nelson learns from his local police
contacts that an active campus cell of neo-Nazi white supremacists,
self-styled as the White Hand, may well be responsible for Dan’s murder.
Cathbad visits an old friend and fellow neo-Druid, Pendragon, who lives in
near-monastic isolation on Pendle Hill. His normally serene friend is
living in terror, much as Dan Golding had, and it’s because of his former
affinity to the White Hand—not because of their white supremacist views but
because of their reverence for King Arthur and the old gods of pagan
These separate but intertwined threads of inquiry lead
Ruth, Nelson and Cathbad ever closer to the secrets underlying the link
between Dan Golding’s murder and his spectacular archaeological discovery.
But confounding their search for the murderer is the realization that Dan
Golding, the man befriended and loved by all who knew him, was in fact
despised by those very same friends and lovers—and everyone of them seemed
capable of murder.
Elly Griffiths’ A Dying Fall earns an easy four
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