Quercus, £12.99. Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Janus Stone, By Elly Griffiths

Funny it's so difficult to find a doctor on call when pathologists seem to be queuing up to sort you out once you're dead. Here comes another one, but Ruth Galloway, expert in Roman remains, is a special creation. She isn't a sexless zombie in a starched white coat; she is really, messily, female. And she doesn't always get things right: her pregnancy is a big surprise. It's even more of a surprise to her puritanical parents.

Ruth and her lover, DCI Nelson, are believable beings at the centre of Elly Griffiths's archaeological mystery. Her pregnancy adds to the intensity of her feelings when the skeleton of a child is discovered under the doorway of an old house: a burial that might have been common in antiquity, when entrances were under the guardianship of the two-headed god, Janus, and the even more fearsome Hecate, to whom such sacrifices were made.

But this infanticide could have occurred nearer modern times, when the building was occupied by a children's home. Two small inhabitants were reported to have run away, leading to suspicions about the charismatic local priest in charge. Ruth lends her expertise to the search for the missing children, and finds a potential murderer amid a heady brew of classical lore and psychopathic revelations. The Iron Age excavation on which she is working is run by an archaeological prima donna (authentically depicted). Also hanging around the trenches are the former lord of the manor and a New Age spiritual adviser who turns out to be remarkably practical beneath his encumbrances of cloak and necklaces.

The setting is enticingly atmospheric: very flat, Norfolk may be, but it also has mysterious fogs and waterways that lead to a gripping chase, excellently interwoven with the Latin quotations and carbon-dating. Meantime, Ruth and her DCI face the big decisions: will she continue with her pregnancy, will he tell his wife? I closed the book wanting to know more about them as well as feeling the satisfaction that a really intelligent murder story can give.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before