The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths: A thrilling, drama-packed addition to an outstanding series - book review -

Locals say that when you see the spectral hound, Black Shuck, it’s a sign of imminent death… but is just an old legend or a terrifying truth?

Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 12:30 pm
The Night Hawks
The Night Hawks

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is back to help solve another baffling murder mystery amidst the big skies and moody, magnificent fenlands of North Norfolk in the thirteenth book of a crime series that has won Elly Griffiths a fistful of awards and an army of fans.

Griffiths is an accomplished and elegant contemporary writer whose work includes the entertaining Brighton mysteries set in the post-war 1950s, and whose Ruth Galloway series, starring a cast of now familiar and much-loved characters, has become cult reading.

These compelling and classy stories of crime and archaeology were inspired by Griffiths’ husband, who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist, and an aunt from the Norfolk coast who filled her niece’s head with the myths and legends of the area.

For any readers who have still not discovered these addictive whodunits, Griffiths’ mysteries are superior all-round crime entertainment with clever, character-driven plots, some astute social observation, lashings of dark humour, a superbly evoked sense of place, and immaculate detective work.

In this new case for Ruth Galloway, we find that both her personal and professional lives have undergone change yet again. After a spell as a university lecturer in Cambridge and the end of her relationship with an American lecturer, Ruth is now back on home ground, head of archaeology at North Norfolk University, and once more a special adviser to the local police.

And when her former lover, DCI Harry Nelson, a married man with three children but also the father of Ruth’s eleven-year-old daughter Katie, is dispatched to Blakeney Point where a man’s body has been found by the sea, Ruth is soon called in to help.

The Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists on the hunt for buried treasure, discovered the body on the beach and at first, Nelson thinks the victim was an asylum seeker but enquiries reveal that he was local boy, Jem Taylor, who was only recently released from prison.

Typically, Ruth is more interested in some treasure found on the beach by the Night Hawks – a hoard of Bronze Age weapons which could date back to the ancient Beaker people – and another body lying among the spears.

Police work on the theory that Taylor’s death was accidental drowning but when Nelson is called to the apparent murder-suicide of research scientist Dr Douglas Noakes and his wife Linda at their isolated Black Dog Farm, it seems that their son is one of the Nights Hawks and links to the detectorists are growing.

Down-to-earth Nelson refuses to take any notice of the local legend of the ghostly Black Shuck hound said to appear to people before they die, even though Douglas Noakes’ suicide note includes the line, ‘He’s buried in the garden.’

And when Ruth excavates and finds the body of a giant dog, all roads seem to lead back to the farm in the middle of nowhere. The eerie place spells serious danger for anyone who goes near but Ruth doesn’t scare easily… not until she finds herself at Black Dog Farm.

Griffiths found her inspiration for The Night Hawks in another fascinating slice of Norfolk folklore which tells the tale of the mysterious Black Shuck, the devil dog which is reputed to prowl the streets of Blakeney, accompanied by the ‘tinkling of a chain.’

Harnessing this creepy legend, she weaves a tension-packed, multi-layered mystery in which the North Norfolk coastline – with its rich vein of buried ancient treasures, miles of sand and rocks, and flat, damp fields – plays an eerie supporting role.

And once more we find the intrepid, painstakingly professional Ruth and her more impatient and quick-tempered sidekick and one-time lover, Harry Nelson, providing not just the brains and brawn for the murder investigation, but the intriguing, complex relationship at the heart of this cosy, compelling and clever series.

Written with Griffiths’ trademark style and wit, and with plot, atmospherics and personalities all played to perfection, this is a thrilling, drama-packed addition to an outstanding series.

(Quercus, hardback, £20)