When a child's bones are discovered in the saltmarsh at Norfolk, along the coast of England, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson asks Dr. Ruth Galloway - an archaeologist at a local university - to help excavate the remains. Ruth discovers that the skeleton, which was interred with two Iron Age torques (metal necklaces), is 2,000 years old. Ruth is thrilled with the find but Nelson is disappointed. He thought the bones might belong to Lucy Downey, a five-year-old child who disappeared a decade ago - a case that's haunted Nelson ever since.
Soon afterwards a four-year-old girl named Scarlet Henderson vanishes, and Nelson suspects she was taken by the same person who abducted Lucy. It turns out the police received a series of taunting letters after Lucy vanished, and similar letters have now arrived about Scarlet. The letters contain quotes from literature and the Bible, as well as references to local archaeological sites and obscure poetic hints about where the girls are buried.
Nelson asks Ruth to help analyze the letters, and she's soon assisting the police with their inquiries. Against all odds, Nelson and Ruth seem drawn to each other. Ruth is a frumpy, overweight, fortyish academic who lives in an isolated cottage on the saltmarsh with her two cats, Sparky and Flint. And Nelson is a burly, lifelong cop who resides in King's Lynn with his beautiful, stylish wife and two teenage daughters. Nevertheless, the sparks between Nelson and Ruth threaten to burst into flame.
Nelson realizes that Lucy's abduction 10 years ago occurred shortly after a major archaeological dig in Norfolk. People who worked on the dig include: Ruth; Erik - a renowned archaeologist who was Ruth's mentor in college; Cathbad - a 'druid' who objected to the digging up of an ancient henge; Shona - a gorgeous professor who's Ruth's best friend; and Peter - who was Ruth's boyfriend at the time. Other residents of the saltmarsh are David - who manages the local bird preserve; and Sammy and Ed - a couple with a vacation cottage in the area. Some of these folks are persons of interest to the cops.
As the police investigate the suspects and search for evidence they're assisted by Ruth, who has (almost supernatural) intuitions about the case. The book has some twists, and ends in an exciting, dramatic climax.
I like the story, and Ruth and Nelson are refreshing characters. Nelson is a traditional, hard-working detective (unlike the many fictional sleuths who are troubled alcoholics....LOL). I also enjoyed the bits of the book about archaeological digs, henge circles, causeways, cursuses, Iron Age rituals, and so on....which are quite interesting.
The Norfolk location - with its marshes, flats, dunes, beach, sea, and tides - is practically a character in the story, and I could almost sense the salt spray on my face. The geography is integral to the plot since characters are often endangered by swiftly approaching tides and dangerous mud holes. (You wouldn't catch me out on those marshes in the dark!)
I have some problems with parts of the plot that don't ring true (that is .....are completely unbelievable), but overall this is a good start to the 'Ruth Galloway - Harry Nelson' series. I'll probably read additional books about this dynamic duo.