Now and then—too seldom, really—one stumbles onto an addictive, engrossing novel. Every once in a while it’s also possible to find a fresh, engaging romance. And sometimes, as in The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths, you’re lucky enough to find both in one book.

Archaeologist Ruth Galloway is overweight and pushing 40, not your typical fictional heroine. Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson is brusque, with a dangerous side and nary a poetic bone in his body. Plus, he’s married. This unlikely twosome sets the sparks flying in a story that unfolds at the edge of the Saltmarsh, a line of sand and mudflats where land meets ocean and ocean meets sky. This is Ruth’s home, in North Norfolk on the English coast. The lonely yet strangely inviting landscape of rain, tides, silent drifting swans and calling birds forms a unique backdrop for an atmospheric story about the discovery of a body in the marsh that police think may be that of a young local girl who disappeared some 10 years earlier.

Inspector Nelson seeks Ruth’s advice on the remains, which instead turn out to be the body of a young girl preserved for nearly 2,000 years in the peaty bog, near a circle of ancient standing stones. Ruth, excited by the discovery of ancient remains, is nevertheless drawn into the mysteries of the present when more recent human remains are found. She begins to unravel the clues posed in a series of anonymous letters dating back over a decade—clues that point to the location of the missing local youngster.

In this dark and witty novel, Griffiths makes each paragraph seem effortless, with just the right amount of description, pathos or humor. In addition to the book’s intriguing duo, the supporting characters in this story are carefully drawn, each believable and entertaining.

The first in a new crime series, The Crossing Places reassures readers of the continuing power of fiction to envelop and entertain. This is a book to save for a rainy dark day when you need a reward. And instead of saying, as you hit the last paragraph, “Well, that’s done,” you’ll be moved to hope, “please, let there be a next one!”

Barbara Clark writes from Yarmouth, Massachusetts.

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