Book Reviews

Review Rating

With the October 2004 review, we began rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels; 
one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!

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The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths

Reviewed on: November 1, 2021


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:  New York
2020 (HC)

In her twelfth Ruth Galloway mystery, author Elly Griffiths remains on top of her game.  Utilizing the folklore of East Anglia County Norfolk, Ms. Griffiths spins a dark and disturbing tale of murder and madness.  Legend tells of the sinister “Lantern Men,” who lead unwary travelers to their deaths on moonless nights in the fens and marshes of Cley.  Now those legends seem to be coming to life as young women of the area disappear with alarming regularity and one of the victims, a non-traditional student in creative writing, pens a short story about the Lantern Men and seems to literally depict her own death.

Meanwhile, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway has begun a new life as a lecturer at Cambridge University with her daughter Kate and a new partner, American historian/television personality Frank Barker.  She has just completed work on her third book—this one on the subject of Neolithic stone circles—while in residence at a Cambridge retreat house, Grey Walls, when she finds herself embroiled in a murder case ostensibly solved by DCI Harry Nelson, her one-time lover and father of her daughter Kate. 

Nelson and his team of North Norfolk Constabulary investigators have secured the conviction of art instructor Ivor March for the killings of two young women, Jill Prendergast and Stacy Newman,  who he then buried in the garden of his lover, Chantal Simmonds.  The conviction was aided by the efforts of Phil Trent, forensic archaeologist at the University of North Norfolk, and Ruth’s successor at the position after she moved to Cambridge.  Nelson is convinced that March is also guilty of the disappearances and likely murders of two other young women, Nicola Ferris and Jenny McGuire, but he lacks evidence.  March stuns the on-going investigation by agreeing to locate the bodies of Ferris and McGuire if Ruth Galloway will conduct the excavation.

As Ruth directs the unearthing of victims, and discovers the body of yet another young woman, Nelson and his investigative team unravel a web of relationships leading back to Grey Walls—Ruth’s recent retreat house—and its connection to Ivor March.  For March and a collection of friends and lovers had created an unaffiliated colony of artists and friends to teach ceramics, painting, print-making, sculpting and creative writing. At least some of the victims of Nelson’s investigations had connections to Grey Walls.  Even more ominously, March and a few of his male friends – calling themselves the “Lantern Men”—provided “guidance” to a number of young women who seemed adrift as they sought to awaken their muses at Grey Walls.

Doubts about March’s guilt begin to emerge—even among Nelson’s team of investigators, if not Nelson himself—when another young woman is murdered in the marshes while March is behind bars.  But it is Ruth’s forensic studies of remains of the new burials and her review of Phil Trent’s investigations that point to the inescapable fact that the events at Grey Walls in years past and the murders of at least six young women  were more complex—and horrific—than even the Nelson and his police colleagues had imagined.

Four trowels for the latest entry in this outstanding series.

Twenty Years in the Trenches: Archaeology in Fiction

William Gresens, longtime MVAC supporter and volunteer, has been writing reviews of archaeological fiction as MVAC’s book reviewer for twenty years.  In this interview Bill shares how he got started writing reviews for MVAC, how the genre has changed, highlights, and his thoughts looking forward. 

Bill Gresen’s Book Review 20th Anniversary

While Bill's reviews go back 20 years now, his relationship with MVAC goes back more than twice that long! The reviews capture some of the things we enjoy most about Bill-- he's perceptive, methodical, a clear thinker, and a whole lot of fun! We look forward to this relationship--and Bill's reviews!--continuing for many years to come.

The March 2021 review marks the 20th anniversary of reviews of archaeological fiction.  It has been my pleasure and great fun to while away the hours reading these books—for the most part, at least—and writing the reviews!  My thanks to MVAC allowing me to prattle on and I look forward to the years ahead.

Bill Gresens