The Hidden Bones by Nicola Ford

Review published on July 6, 2018.

The Hidden Bones is the first in a promising new series featuring archaeologist Clare Hills. There is quite a long set up and a good deal of scene setting, but that’s to be expected in a first outing. Once the hunt for the murderer is underway the novel picks up pace and is entertaining all the way to the end. The archaeological detail is always interesting and at times fascinating.

In October, 1972, a farmer on the Marlborough Downs digs up an amber and gold disc in his field, the disc has been damaged by the plough but it’s a spectacular find. That leads to the discovery that Hungerbourne, once known as The Woe Waters, is the site of a Bronze Age cemetery (4000 years old). An excavation on the site of the local manor takes place the following year. In March of 2013, archaeologist Clare Hills is invited to Hungerbourne Manor to work on a project set up by David Barbrook. On the death of his uncle, Gerald Hart, the new owner, Peter, has decided to catalogue the archive/collection related to the dig in 1973 (which followed the discovery of the Jevon amber disc). Clare is worried that David has given her the job out of a misguided sense of sympathy, her husband died the year before and she has been drifting ever since. In 1973, Gerald Hart had a team of archaeologists working on uncovering the cemetery, several finds were made including burial urns and gold trinkets. The British Museum benefited from the discoveries. Then suddenly the dig was shutdown, the papers were thrown into boxes and hidden for nearly forty years. All attempts to get Hart to publish or allow access were rebuffed. Then, in 2012, the collection was said to be lost in a fire, that was not long before Gerald Hart died. With the access David and Clare are given they uncover a campaign of threats against Gerald, “Beware the Woe Waters: Bringers of Death”, in the run up to the fire. Funding secured, the pair begin to sift the collection but soon make another discovery, they think a theft of some of the gold from the dig has come to light. To top that, as scientific tests are carried out on an ancient burial urn a disturbing and much more recent death emerges, a murder. The fact that the dig was halted now appears to make more sense but what exactly was Gerald Hart hiding? As Clare seeks to find out what happened forty years ago, her life is in danger in the present.

The idea behind the story, with the theft and the murder investigation crossing over each other, no one actually sure whether they are part of the same crime or not, is well thought out. There are a couple of small twists that satisfy but the mystery at the heart of the story isn’t hard to decipher if you think about it. Ford has a straightforward style that is easy to get on with.

For me, this story didn’t quite ignite, again that can happen with first novels in a proposed series. However, part of the reason is my personal preference for the more exotic and darker side of crime. It’s not that The Hidden Bones is cosy crime exactly, but it lighter than my usual fare. A lot of people will prefer that anyway. A massive positive for the novel is that Ford has introduced a strong cast of female characters in The Hidden Bones and I am sure Clare Hill can carry a series as more novels follow.

Nicola Ford is the pen name of Dr. Nick Snashall, archaeologist for the National Trust at Stonehenge, who you may know from Countryfile or Britain’s Secret Treasures on the TV. Her knowledge gives the story credibility when it comes to the archaeological detail.

Paul Burke 3/4

The Hidden Bones by Nicola Ford
Allison and Busby 9780749023621 hbk Jun 2018

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