The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths
It is February 2016, a leap year, and Valentine’s Day nears. An ominous letter comes to DCI Harry Nelson; it seems to be from a long-dead murderer involved in a twenty-year old case of a missing girl. “That corpse you buried in your garden, has it begun to sprout? …You could not save Lucy but you could save the innocent who lies within the stone circle…Imbolc is here and we dance under the stars.”
The Stone Circle is a Gothic novel that combines police procedural, soap opera, and an exploration of archaeological methodology and folklore. The stones seem “sullen and menacing…oddly shaped, bulging as if with some secret stone pregnancy….” The sun appears intermittently. The alternative, it seems, is a “grey and misty day, the marshes and the sea lost in a hazy, mutable light.”
Nelson’s ominous letter contains information known and unknown, so he turns to archaeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway and learns that another henge of wooden timbers has been discovered near where Lucy was found so many years ago. This henge has been dubbed the “stone circle” because a stone cist (a coffin) containing human skeletal remains was unearthed. Galloway has also been receiving troubling letters that evoke the past. As she and Nelson decide they must work together again, their personal relationship grows more complicated.
Nelson and Galloway have a nine-year old daughter together. Nelson’s wife Michelle’s baby may have been fathered by another policeman with whom she had an affair. Nelson and Michelle have been married nearly 30 years and also have two adult daughters. The “husband” of one of the policewomen is spiritually attuned to the Druidic world, and an archaeologist who has come down to help with the current dig is the son of the archaeologist who was part of an earlier dig, a man who, now dead, was once a suspect in Lucy’s murder. These characters form only part of a complex system of intertwined relationships, a mangled spider’s web of connections and overlaps.
All these elements make this a most interesting read as Griffiths skillfully weaves this multitude of back-stories into the present in an effort to identify the killer from so many years ago. She has a knack for just the right description, often imbuing one with subtle humor. For example, a person of interest sits in an armchair in a “so-called ‘soft interviewing space’ which means that it has IKEA furniture and a plastic fern.”
The Stone Circle, eleventh in what was intended to be a ten-novel sequence, is set in England, specifically Norfolk and East Anglia. Many places are real as are its procedural and archeological elements. The folklore is as “real” as folk wisdom can be, but it adds a vital element of verisimilitude to the plot. It is a novel set firmly and realistically in its contemporary place.