The Crossing Places is the first book that features forensic archaeologist, Ruth Galloway, in Elly Griffiths' series of murder mysteries set in Norfolk. Ruth works at the local university and has a particular interest in the henge circle that was discovered near her isolated home right on the marshes. This is a landscape where sea and land meet and according to the religion of the ancient people who built the henge it is also the path between life and death. A perfect spot for burial rites and human sacrifice then.
When a child's bones are discovered on the marshes, Inspector Harry Nelson requests Ruth's help to date them. It is obviously not a new death, and Nelson hopes to solve a ten-year-old murder, that of Lucy Downey, a little girl taken from her bed in middle of the night. It is the case that haunts Nelson the most, possibly because of the letters that the murderer has sent him over the years, full of references to literature, archaeology and the Bible.
The bones turn out to be around two thousand years old, and at the burial site are Iron Age artefacts, which is great for Ruth and her archaeologist friends, including her old teacher and mentor, the Norwegian Erik Anderssen. There will be more for Ruth and co to get their teeth into, more finds including an ancient pathway, giving plenty of scope for Griffiths to describe the customs and beliefs of the early people who lived here.
Ruth sees her job as something akin to detective work, but when another little girl goes missing from her home and more letters arrive with references to ancient burials and the marshes, she is soon involved in a modern day crime. Inspector Nelson with his brusque north of England manner and Ruth with the confidence that comes from her academic expertise are an incongruous pair. Rather overweight and dressed for practicalities as opposed to style, Ruth is the world away from the kind of woman Nelson is used to, but the two make a connection.
The reader suspects this will be the first of many crimes they will solve together and it is fortunate the two soon develop a grudging respect for each other. Plot-wise there aren't so many surprises but I enjoyed this fairly light and easy read, and I like the main characters, Ruth with her cats and solitariness and Nelson with his bad-tempered impatience but undoubtable integrity.
Best of all is the setting: what is it about the Norfolk marshes that is so appealing? Possibly it is the danger of the rushing tide that threatens to swallow up anyone caught off the narrow paths of safety. There are shades of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black and Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone here, which just adds to the chilling atmosphere and creates a reliably escapist novel.