The Dark Angel

Written by Elly Griffiths

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes.

The Dark Angel
Quercus Publishing
RRP: £16.99
Released: February 8 2018

A colourful book, The Dark Angel opens in Norfolk with a smart wedding, a glut of guests and all their tangled relationships. First there is Ruth, a forensic archaeologist and close friend of Nelson who is the father of her six-year-old daughter. Nelson, a cop, is married to Michelle by whom he has two grown daughters. Michelle is pregnant, possibly by her black lover, Tim.

Ruth’s best friend is Shona, a ravishing redhead with a wandering eye and a demanding small son. She is partnered by Cathbad, a shaman. Cathbad and an orange cat called Flint are portrayed as the only stable people in a plethora of navel-gazers, not forgetting Bruno, a German Shepherd, and a likeable old priest in a small village below Monte Cassino.

For the action, or part of it, transfers to Italy, Ruth having been summoned there by one of her former lovers, Angelo, a historian and TV celebrity who is making a documentary at a local dig and needs the support and prestige of an expert. Shona and the children go along for the holiday.

The area around Monte Cassino is a place of bad memories. Italy was occupied by the Germans during World War Two and there are old people who remember resistance fighters in the hills; some even participated and they recall murders and reprisals. There was treachery, and some traitors were never brought to book. There may be threats behind the abuse of modern graffiti but Ruth accepts Angelo’s explanation that this is no more than the ingrained hostility of locals to all incomers, even himself.  So Ruth plays her part as the consultant on the TV documentary but finds her presence rather pointless. Homesick and missing Nelson she spends much of her time on the beach with Shona and the children, at risk of becoming bored.  As is the reader except that, running parallel with the Italian adventure, page by page, is a story of suspense back home.

First there is the disturbing question concerning the paternity of Michelle’s baby, and neither the putative fathers nor Michelle herself can resolve it. A scan reveals the sex of the baby but not its colour. A more immediate problem is the release on parole of Mickey Webb, a man who murdered his whole family in a house fire. When convicted he had vowed revenge on Nelson who was the cop who put him in court. However, in prison Mickey was befriended by a good woman who converted him to Jesus. The jury is out on that one.

Back in Italy there is an earthquake that opens more modern graves and brings Nelson and Shona’s Cathbad hotfoot to dig their families out of the rubble. What they find are two women unaffected by the ‘quake, but attended by handsome Italians and embroiled in a murder.

Nelson doesn’t stay long in Italy; he plays no part in solving the murder, and is on the plane returning to England when, metaphorically speaking, two volcanoes erupt, ahead and behind him, demonstrating the dictum that when you don’t know what to do have a man come in with a gun.

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