The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths: Classic all-round crime entertainment - book review -

The Lantern Men
The Lantern Men

Written with Griffiths’ trademark style and wit, and with plot, atmospherics and personalities in perfect harmony, this is an excellent addition to an outstanding series.

High drama on the low-lying Norfolk fens can only mean one thing… forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is back to help solve another baffling murder mystery.

The Lantern Men is the twelfth gripping book in the award-winning Dr Ruth Galloway series and comes from the pen of Elly Griffiths, an accomplished and elegant contemporary crime writer whose work includes the entertaining Brighton mysteries set in the post-war 1950s.

The Galloway series, set against the alluring backdrop of Norfolk’s fenlands and starring a cast of now familiar and much-loved characters, has become cult reading, and was inspired by Griffiths’ husband who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist, and her aunt who lives on the Norfolk coast and filled her niece’s head with the myths and legends of the area.

For any readers who have still not discovered these addictive mysteries, Griffiths’ stories are classic 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 huge changes. She has a new job as a university lecturer, a new home in Cambridge, a new partner, American lecturer Frank Barker, and is no longer North Norfolk police’s resident forensic archaeologist.

But back in Norfolk, her former lover, DCI Harry Nelson, who is also father of her ten-year-old daughter Katie, fears that Ivor March, recently convicted of killing two women, is also guilty of murdering two more women, with whom March had connections and who disappeared from the same fenland area.

When March, who is now behind bars, confirms Nelson’s suspicions, he offers to personally show Nelson where the other bodies are buried, but only if Ruth, who was not assigned to the original case, will do the digging.

Curious, but wary, Ruth agrees and is drawn back to the place she left behind with some reluctance. March tells Ruth that the women’s bodies are buried near a village bordering the fens, said to be haunted by the Lantern Men, mysterious figures holding lights who lure travellers to their deaths.

But is March himself a lantern man, luring Ruth back to Norfolk? What is his plan, and why is she so crucial to it? And are the killings really over?

Griffiths found her inspiration for The Lantern Men in a fascinating slice of Norfolk folklore which tells the tale of mysterious figures who prowl the marshes at night and use lanterns to guide unsuspecting travellers to their deaths on treacherous ground.

Harnessing this creepy legend, she weaves a tension-packed, multi-layered mystery in which the atmospheric fens – with their flat, damp fields reaching endlessly into the horizon and deep, waterlogged ditches – play 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 in perfect harmony, this is an excellent addition to an outstanding series.

(Quercus, hardback, £19.99)