In this highly atmospheric mystery, Ruth Galloway—“a captivating amateur sleuth” (Louise Penny)—and DCI Nelson investigate a murder in a medieval Italian town where dark secrets are buried as deep as bones.
It’s not every day that you’re summoned to the Italian countryside on business, so when archaeologist Angelo Morelli asks for Ruth Galloway’s help identifying bones found in the tiny hilltop town of Fontana Liri, she jumps at the chance to go, bringing her daughter along with her for a working vacation. Upon arriving, she begins to hear murmurs of Fontana Liri’s strong resistance movement during World War II and senses the townspeople are dancing around a deeply buried secret. But how could that be connected to the ancient remains she’s been studying?
Ruth is just beginning to get her footing in the dig when she’s thrown off-guard by the appearance of DCI Nelson. And when Ruth’s findings lead them to a modern-day murder, their holidays are both turned upside down, and they race to find out what darkness is lurking in this seemingly picturesque town.
In this highly atmospheric mystery, Ruth Galloway—described by Louise Penny as "a captivating amateur sleuth"—and DI Nelson have their summer vacations horribly disrupted by a murder in a medieval Italian town where dark secrets are buried as deep as bones.
The confetti is still blowing in the street. Ruth watches as Clough and Cassandra get into the white Rolls-Royce–Cassandra laughing as she shakes the pink and yellow hearts from her hair–and drive away. They’re an unlikely pair, no-nonsense policeman DS Dave Clough and beautiful actress and daughter of local aristocrats Cassandra Blackstock–but they met in the course of work and fell in love. And to prove it, they’re getting married. Bully for them, thinks Ruth, although that sounds bitter even to her own ears.
Mr and Mrs Blackstock-Clough are on their way to a reception at Blackstock Hall. Ruth should be on her way there too–next to her, Kate is positively hopping with excitement and anticipation–but all she wants is to get back to her little house on the salt marsh, shut her door and sleep for a week. But Cathbad and Judy are approaching, with Michael and Miranda skipping between them, like an advertisement for family values. Ruth plasters on a cheerful, I-love-weddings smile.
‘Have you got your car?’ says Judy. ‘If not, there’s space in ours.’
‘It’s OK,’ says Ruth. ‘I’ve got my car.’ There’s no way she’s going to risk being stuck at Blackstock Hall, a crumbling stately home in the middle of the Norfolk marshes, without her own transport. ‘I’ll see you there,’ she says, keeping on the smile. Her cheeks are hurting now.
The car park is full so she has to wait before she can get her car out. As she stands, holding Kate by the hand, Nelson drives past in his Mercedes, Michelle at his side. Nelson is frowning at the other cars and doesn’t seem to notice her, but Michelle smiles and waves. Ruth waves back. With any luck, Michelle won’t want to stay at the reception long. She is pregnant, after all.
Within a remarkably short time, most of the guests have left. Ruth’s red Renault and a sporty black jeep affair are almost the only cars left.
‘Hurry up,’ says Kate. ‘We might miss the cake. Uncle Dave is going to cut it with a sword.’ Uncle Dave is what Kate calls Clough, who is quite a favourite with her. Ruth dreads to think what might happen if Uncle Dave gets his hands on a ceremonial sword.
‘They won’t cut the cake for ages yet,’ she says. ‘There’ll be other food first.’
‘Will there be prawns?’ asks Kate suspiciously.
Almost certainly, thinks Ruth. She is sure that Cassandra will have put together a sophisticated menu, in defiance of Clough’s often-stated preference for pie and chips. But she knows that Kate dislikes prawns ‘because they have whiskers’.
‘The food will be lovely,’ she says. ‘Let’s go now.’
As Kate climbs into her car seat, a voice behind them says, ‘Ruth.’
Ruth turns. It’s Tim Heathfield, the detective sergeant who used to be on Nelson’s team but has now moved back to Essex. Ruth has always liked Tim, who is both intelligent and sensitive, but she wants to talk to him about as much as Kate wants to eat a prawn vol-au-vent. Because she knows the reason Tim left Norfolk. Tim was in love with Michelle, and what with Ruth being in love with Nelson, it all makes things rather tricky.
She forces herself to turn and smile. ‘Hello, Tim. How are you?’
‘I’m fine,’ he says. ‘How are you? Kate’s growing up fast.’
‘I’m six,’ says Kate from the car, determined not to be left out of the conversation.
‘Are you going to the reception?’ says Ruth. The jeep must belong to Tim, she thinks. It’s like him, handsome in an understated way and tougher than it looks.
‘No,’ says Tim. ‘I promised Cloughie that I’d come to the wedding but I couldn’t really face the reception. Blackstock Hall doesn’t hold the best memories for me.’
Ruth can understand that. Tim once shot a man at Blackstock Hall, saving Nelson’s life and probably Ruth’s as well.
She can see why he wouldn’t want to go back there. She’s not exactly looking forward to it herself.
‘I’m staying in King’s Lynn overnight,’ Tim is saying. ‘And I wondered if we might be able to meet up for coffee tomorrow. I’d like to ask your advice about something.’
Ruth wonders how long it takes to emigrate. There is nothing she wants less than to have a cosy chat with Tim.
‘That would be great,’ she says. ‘Why don’t you come to the house? It might be difficult to get a babysitter. Say eleven o’clock?’
The reception is in full swing by the time Ruth arrives at Blackstock Hall. The austere grey house has been transformed into a glittery bower full of fairy lights and flowers. There is a marquee on the lawn and a string quartet playing in the entrance hall. Ruth compliments Sally, Cassandra’s mother, on the décor.
‘Oh, it was all Cassie’s idea,’ says Sally, in her vague way. ‘But we’re planning to open the hall as a wedding venue, so if you know anyone who’s getting married...’
But Ruth’s friends are all mired in domesticity or getting divorced. Only her gay friends are still getting married. She smiles and moves on into the marquee where she sees tables laid with a multitude of glass and cutlery, all signs that a long and formal meal is expected.. This means hours of eating and drinking and speeches and little chance of a quick getaway. At least she is at a table with Cathbad and Judy and their kids, miles from Nelson. She sees place cards for Tanya, another DS on Nelson’s team, and her partner, Petra, too. Tanya will not be pleased to be seated at a table full of children.
Kate is delighted to be next to Michael, who is younger than her and perfect for indoctrination. She immediately regales him with a description of prawns. ‘They have little black eyes and long, long whiskers.’
Michael’s face crumbles. ‘I don’t want...’
‘It’s all right, Michael,’ says Cathbad. ‘There won’t be prawns. I’ve looked at the menu. Anyway, we’ve both got the vegetarian option.’
Ruth looks at the menu in the middle of the table and feels slightly sick. All those courses. When will she be able to escape? She can’t even drink because she’s driving. She takes a sip of her water and discovers that it’s elderflower, musty and slightly perfumed. She puts her glass down.
‘Are you all right?’ asks Cathbad, who is sitting next to her.
Ruth doesn’t want to have a heart-to-heart with Cathbad because there’s a danger that she will actually tell him what’s in her heart. Luckily, at that moment, Cassandra and Clough come into the tent, to a chorus of ‘Congratulations’ from the band and the cheers of the guests.
Kate stands on her chair and Ruth doesn’t have the energy to tell her not to.
‘Cassie looks like a fairy princess,’ she tells Ruth.
‘She really does,’ says Ruth. She has failed to pass on her republican principles to her daughter.
It’s past nine by the time Ruth finally drives away across the marshes. It’s still light, the sky all soft pinks and blues, the sea an azure line against the horizon. Kate is quiet in the back and Ruth thinks that she’ll be asleep before long.
It hadn’t been too bad really. Cassandra’s father made a heartfelt, though mercifully brief, speech and Clough had surprised them all with a witty and emotional tribute to his bride. For Ruth, the best–and worst–moment had been when he had thanked, ‘the boss, the one and only DCI Nelson.’ Nelson had raised his hand, looking embarrassed, but all the police officers in the room had cheered lustily. Ruth thinks that Nelson is in danger of becoming popular, partly because he is known to be at loggerheads with his boss, Superintendent Jo Archer. Super Jo herself, stunning in a bright red dress, had watched serenely from the table she shared with sundry Blackstock relatives. When Ruth left the marquee she had been dancing rather suggestively with cousin Roger.
At least Nelson and Michelle hadn’t danced together. After Clough and Cassandra had circled romantically to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’, various other couples had taken the floor, including Cathbad and Judy and Tanya and Petra. Ed sang about people finding love in mysterious ways and Ruth watched as Nelson leant forward and whispered something to Michelle. She smiled and shook her head. Ruth had turned away, not wanting to be caught staring at them.
Library Journal Reviews
Helping archaeologist Angelo Morelli identify bones found in the Italian mountain village of Fontana Liri takes forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway far from her Norfolk cottage, and her task is complicated by secrets involving resistance during World War II. A change of pace for the CWA Dagger in the Library winner.
Copyright 2017 Library Journal.