The Ruth Galloway series is one of my favourites. Ruth is a forensic archaeologist, a specialist on bones & university lecturer. She’s overweight & not too fussed about it. Single mother to 18 month old Kate, in a lukewarm relationship with Max, best friends with Cathbad, a Druid & Kate’s godfather, & in love with Kate’s father, DCI Harry Nelson. Ruth & Harry had a one night stand during the murder investigation that first brought them together & Kate was the result. Harry is good at his job although he’s not too sure he likes living in Norfolk. He’s married to Michelle, has two daughters & his feelings for Ruth range from irritation to protective affection. He loves Kate & is determined to be part of her life, even though he disapproves of Ruth living in an isolated house on the remote salt marshes & keeping him at arm’s length.
When Ruth hears that Dan Golding, a fellow archaeologist she knew at university, has died in a house fire, she is sorry that she lost touch with him & the rest of their group. Dan was a charismatic man & Ruth had been a little in love with him. When she receives a letter from Dan on the day she hears of his death, she is shocked & then intrigued. Dan wants her advice about some skeletal remains he’s found in the Pendle area of Lancashire. His letter is excited but also disturbing as he tells Ruth that he’s found the Raven King & he’s afraid of someone or something as a result. Then, Ruth is contacted by the head of Dan’s department at Pendle University & asked to examine the bones Dan found in a post-Roman tomb. She also discovers that Dan’s death wasn’t an accident. The fire was deliberately lit & the door was locked on the outside so Dan had no chance of escaping. His laptop with all his notes of the excavation & mobile phone are also missing. Ruth decides to take her summer holiday in Lancashire along with Kate & Cathbad.
Ruth had asked Nelson to find out more about Dan’s death as his old mate Sandy McLeod from Blackpool CID is in charge of the investigation. Nelson doesn’t enjoy holidays but he decides that this year, he’ll go back to Blackpool with Michelle so they can visit their families & he’ll be on hand to help the investigation into Dan’s murder. He doesn’t know about Ruth’s plans & there are some awkward moments when Ruth & Kate come face to face with Nelson’s mother & sisters.
Ruth is immediately intrigued by the archaeological evidence when she arrives at Pendle University. The second-rate institution seems such an unlikely place for Dan, the Indiana Jones of UCL, to have ended up. His department is very much on the fringe, underfunded & unappreciated. His colleagues tell Ruth how sorry they are about Dan’s death but she’s unsure how sincere they are. The remains Dan discovered have been taken to a forensics lab for sake-keeping & Ruth is shocked to discover that they’ve been replaced with parts from two different bodies. She’s even more surprised to learn that Dan believed that the remains were those of King Arthur & that a white supremacist group called the White Hand, devoted to the Norse myths & the memory of Arthur, could be angered by the implications of Dan’s discovery. Dan had received hate mail from the group & the police think they could have been involved in his murder. When Ruth starts receiving sinister text messages warning her off, she is spooked but not deterred from investigating Dan’s death & the mystery of the bones. The White Hand aren’t the only suspects as Ruth learns more about Dan’s tangled personal relationships & also about the financial rewards his discovery could have brought to his cash strapped department.
Dying Fall is a terrific, fast-paced mystery that I read in virtually one sitting. Ruth & Nelson are immensely appealing characters. Their tangled personal relationship is always interesting as they’re decent people who don’t want to hurt anyone but are obviously meant to be together. Ruth’s Druid friend Cathbad has also become an important part of Ruth’s circle. His relationship with Nelson’s colleague, Judy, is still unresolved & his friendship with a fellow Druid, Pendragon, plays an important part in the plot. The mix of archaeology & history with a present day mystery always appeals to me. Like Kate Ellis’s Wesley Peterson series, they combine three of my favourite subjects. I have Kate Ellis’s latest, The Shadow Collector, on my desk at the moment so I have another treat to look forward to there.
The King Arthur thread was also interesting to me as I’m currently reading another book on the same subject but non-fiction rather than fiction. King Arthur’s Battle for Britain by Eric Walmsley describes the author’s extensive research into the locations of the twelve legendary battles Arthur is said to have fought all over Britain in the shadowy years after the Romans left in the 5th century. I’ll be reviewing it soon.