"Marshland is very important in prehistory ... It's a kind of symbolic landscape. We think that it was important because it's a link between the land and the sea, or between life and death."
Nelson snorts. "Come again?" (p.24)
First in the Ruth Galloway series of archaeological whodunnits. I discovered this quite by chance: Anne and I went to the Bodies in the Bookstore event at Waterstones, back in the summer, where we paid £5 each to hang out with authors and drink decent Chardonnay. We also got goodie-bags: this was in Anne's, and I nabbed it because I like marshes, prehistory and the Norfolk coast.
Dr Ruth Galloway is a successful academic, single at nearly forty, living alone with two cats on the edge of the north Norfolk saltmarsh. She's called in by brusque, no-nonsense Northerner DC Harry Nelson to examine a body that's been found in the marsh. Nelson hopes that it's the body of Lucy Downey, missing for ten years, whose case he's still obsessed with. Ruth disillusions him: the remains are those of an Iron Age sacrifice.
But as Ruth gets drawn into the Downey case -- and another local child, four-year-old Scarlett Henderson, goes missing -- she begins to discover a web of lies, deceit and bad behaviour that seems to be centred on her mentor and hero, dashing Scandinavian archaeologist Erik Andersen. What really happened at the henge excavation ten years ago? What's happening out on the marsh now?
There are anonymous letters with a distinctly mythological tone; there's a druid, Cathbad (not his real name); there's the student who died in prison after (possibly) being framed by the police for a murder; there's a gruesome corpse on the doorstep, some fascinating observations on Iron and Bronze Age archaeology (though I'm unable to find any corroborative evidence for ancient North American timber being discovered on the Norfolk coast). Despite some irritations -- Ruth's obsession with her weight, though she's not what I'd term obese; DC Nelson's improbable ignorance of carbon 14 dating; the fact that the whole book's written in the present tense, a form I don't find as appealing at novel-length as I do in short stories -- The Crossing Places really gripped me, and I'm looking forward to reading more by this author.
NB Not all single people are (a) sad and lonely (b) psychotic.