"The House at Sea's End" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Elly Griffiths: Dr. Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist and single mother, has enough drama in her life. At least the discovery of six skeletons buried along Britain's Norfolk coastline present her with a professional challenge for a change.
But being part of the investigation — the bodies appear to have been bound and then shot execution-style — puts her in constant contact with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. The tensions that appear during a murder probe are more strained than usual because of the secret they share: The married dad is the father of the unmarried Galloway's infant daughter.
In Elly Griffiths' page-turning mystery, "The House at Sea's End," erosion is at the heart of more than one problem. The sea uncovers the remains and, at the same time, threatens a historic home. Mourning a deep personal loss and facing an uncertain future with Nelson threaten to wear down Galloway. Meanwhile, an unexpected visit from an old friend with ties to Galloway's past and possibly her future may not be a blessing.
Guessing whether Galloway's secret will be exposed is as much a part of the game for readers as figuring out who put the shovel to that sandy grave. Griffiths handles the juggling act well, providing a cozy murder mystery amid a domestic drama that doesn't paint Galloway as a saint or Nelson as a sinner.
Griffiths' Galloway is a likable and alluring character in part because she's not an unrealistic pillar of strength and perfection. She's professional and intelligent, as one would expect of a professor with the University of North Norfolk's forensic archaeology department, and a little touchy when she's not given her due. (That's Dr. Galloway, mind you.)
Flawed yet sharply drawn characters like Ruth Galloway offer so much more than the stoic, seamless, practically peerless protagonists who command the pages of too many mysteries and thrillers. Griffiths allows her creation to stumble a bit, and there's no guarantee she'll puzzle out the crime or smooth out her personal life.
Griffiths' third Galloway mystery achieves two goals: It provides a wholly satisfying whodunit as well as a good reason to look up the other two.
Douglass K. Daniel is the author of "Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks" (University of Wisconsin Press).