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The Lantern Men: A Ruth Galloway Mystery


The Lantern Men: A Ruth Galloway Mystery

The legend of the Lantern Man, which finds its origin in the history of the Fens of East Anglia, has been referred to as an atmospheric ghost light. At times, local folklore believed it was another legendary creature, the will-o'-the-wisp. Realistically, this light was the product of combustible marsh gases.

Elly Griffiths, a resident of Brighton, England, recently wrote an article, "Why Marshes Capture Our Imaginations --- and Inspire Some of Our Most Unsettling Folklore." The research conducted for her most recent release, THE LANTERN MEN, is expertly detailed in this piece. It is chilling to learn that the Lantern Man has been called many things and represented by different beings all over the world. One version from Britain alludes to the being known as Jack, a person who tricked the devil but remains earthbound forever, who also was the impetus for the jack-o'-lanterns from Halloween. In Scandinavia, these strange lights are said to be the souls of unbaptized children. The Ghost Light or Spook Light is given a different name in Louisiana --- feu follet --- a soul sent back from the dead, hell-bent on vengeance.

"...a true page-turner written by one of the best in the business.... This latest effort further solidifies [Griffiths'] stellar reputation for writing intelligent, well-researched stories full of complex characters..."

Well, there is certainly a lot to talk about with the novel’s title. “Men” instead of “Man” is used symbolically as there may be as many as three men involved in a deadly practice that is uncovered by Dr. Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson in this moody and suspenseful new entry in Griffiths’ series. The prologue takes us back to 2007. A young woman searching for a youth hostel near Cambridge is approached by a van, which had been quietly stalking her, only to have the driver lower his window and invite her in as a way to escape the rain.

In the present day, we find Ruth at a writer's retreat where she gets to dwell amongst other fellow like-minded creative types. Struggling to turn her experience as a forensic archaeologist into another novel, Ruth befriends a woman named Crissy, who is very eager to learn all she can about her. Meanwhile, Nelson and his partner, DI Judy Johnson, are taking in the verdict against alleged serial killer Ivor March. March has just been found guilty of the murders of two young women, but Nelson is confident that he will dig up more victims. For instance, there were two others, Nicola Ferris and Jenny McGuire, who were never found and who matched the profile of the women March has been convicted of killing.

Even though his chief urges him to move on, Nelson keeps digging into March's background for proof of more criminal acts. One of the people he identifies for further questioning is March's ex-wife, Christina "Crissy" Martin, who runs the Grey Walls Artists Retreat (and is the same Crissy whom Ruth met). She shares that March and his best friends and fellow instructors at the retreat, Bob and Leonard, referred to themselves as the Lantern Men. They indicated that their job was to drive around in their van and pick up young ladies in an effort to save their lost souls.

Ruth and Nelson each get to meet with March in prison and find that he has handpicked Ruth to look into his case. He is happy to be found guilty but never actually confessed to killing those two women, or any of the others who have never been found. Crissy still claims that her ex-husband and his friends merely wanted to show young females that there is more to life than drinking and sleeping around. They hoped to teach them about art and beauty, two of the primary subjects of the retreat.

The continued investigation turns up the names of additional young women who had gone missing and were never found. The only problem is that one of them, Heidi Lucas, could not have been killed by March because her murder occurred while he was in prison. Still, the focus is directly on Grey Walls, as Nelson is convinced that they are behind Heidi's demise. The trouble is that March's ex-wives and girlfriends all proclaim his innocence. Bob and Leonard are highly suspect characters, but they also seem to worship the ground on which March walks. Ruth and Nelson need to combine their efforts to find out if indeed the wrong man has been imprisoned.

THE LANTERN MEN is a true page-turner written by one of the best in the business. Griffiths’ stand-alone novel, THE STRANGER DIARIES, won the esteemed Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2019. This latest effort further solidifies her stellar reputation for writing intelligent, well-researched tales full of complex characters, which are often based on the legend and folklore of the local area. Since the setting in these stories is Norfolk, England, we know that there is a wealth of history that she can draw upon to continue putting out first-class mysteries such as this one.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 17, 2020

The Lantern Men: A Ruth Galloway Mystery
by Elly Griffiths

  • Publication Date: July 6, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0358522455
  • ISBN-13: 9780358522454