The Chalk Pit

Written by Elly Griffiths

Review written by Maureen Carlyle

The Chalk Pit
RRP: £16.99
Released: February 23 2017

The Chalk Pit could be described as a fairly straightforward police procedural, but it’s not. The characters are so convincing you feel you know them, and you really like most of them; which is quite unusual in a contemporary crime novel as the vivid characterisation is remarkable.

DCI Harry Nelson is attached to Norwich CID. The only real fly in his ointment is his immediate boss, Superintendent Jo Archer, who is a pain in everyone's backside at the station. Dr. Ruth Galloway is the head of forensic archaeology at North Norwich University and is currently conducting the investigation into some human bones that have been found in the undercroft below the Guildhall, where there is a network of ancient tunnels. The bones are not a complete skeleton, two tibias, part of a femur and an arm bone. They seem extraordinarily clean. Ted, Ruth's assistant, assumes the bones are ancient, because the tunnels are part of a medieval chalk mine, but Ruth says that is not necessarily so, and packs them up to send to the lab.

Ruth and Harry have a history. Seven years ago, they had an affair, which resulted in the birth of Ruth's daughter, Kate. Harry told his glamorous wife, Michelle, who has two teenage daughters, the whole story and she, very magnanimously, agreed that he could keep in constant touch with Kate and take her out regularly. But strong feelings still exist between the ex-lovers; and they are close friends.

The reason for the chalk pit, under the Guildhall being opened is that an entrepreneur. Quentin Swan, has applied to convert the undercroft into a restaurant and entertainment centre. He comes to the Guildhall in a state of high excitement, desperate to know whether the bones are ancient, which could hold up his planning application. Ruth explains that they will have to be tested by the forensics lab before they know for sure. She also finds Mr. Swan quite dishy.

Meanwhile, at the Norwich Police Station, Harry is visited by a rough sleeper well-known to the police, nicknamed by them ‘Aftershave Eddie’ because of his unsavoury smell. Eddie is worried about an associate of his, another rough sleeper called Babs, who has apparently disappeared. Harry thinks that the homeless habitually disappear at intervals, and doesn't take too much notice at first, but does send members of his squad to talk to various rough sleepers in the area. He discovers that they all tend to congregate at a centre in Kings Lynn which provides hot soup and showers for them at lunch time. Harry is also investigating a mysterious hole which has appeared in a residential road in Norwich. The hole is above the chalk workings.

So begins a very complicated but exciting plot, which has such a multiplicity of characters that it is sometimes difficult to remember who they all are. Several homeless characters are murdered, then two young local women disappear. They are comfortably off, one of them being the partner of a Detective Sergeant in Harry's squad. She is a very attractive actress, who is directing a play in which Ruth's daughter Kate is taking part.

Harry Nelson becomes deeply involved in the investigation, despite the best efforts

of Jo Archer to keep him office-bound. There is a thrilling climax, in which even Jo Archer shows a softer side.

I have not read anything by this author before, but after The Chalk Pit, I wish I had. Elly Griffiths has the great gift of making the reader feel welcome from the first page.

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