The Crime Readers' Association

The Lost Shrine: Digging Up the Dead by Nicola Ford

3rd June 2019

The Lost Shrine, published on 23 May, is the second in Nicola Ford’s series featuring archaeologists Clare Hills and Dr David Barbrook.

In The Lost Shrine Clare Hills, archaeologist and sometime sleuth, is struggling to finance her recently established university research institute along with her long-time friend, Dr David Barbrook. When Professor Margaret Bockford finds the Hart Unit commercial work with a housing developer on a site in the Cotswolds, the pair are hardly in a position to refuse. There is just one slight catch: the previous site director, Beth Kinsella, was found hanged in a copse on-site, surrounded by mutilated wildlife.

Despite initial misgivings, Clare leads a team to continue work on the dig, but with rumours about Beth’s mental state and her claims that the site was historically significant refusing to be laid to rest, and lingering disquiet between local residents and the developers, progress is impeded at every turn. When one of the workers finds something unsettling, Clare suspects there may be more to Beth’s claims than first thought. But can she uncover the truth before it is hidden forever?

Nicola Ford is my pen name. In my day job I’m Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. That day job is what helps me bring the dead to life in my writing, and provided the inspiration for my Hills and Barbrook archaeological crime thrillers: first in The Hidden Bones and now in The Lost Shrine.

If you know how to listen, the dead tell fascinating tales. As an archaeologist unlocking the secrets of the dead is my trade, but as a crime writer telling their stories is my passion. Though I was born among the hop gardens and apple orchards of Kent I spent much of my youth digging up bits of Gloucestershire. And over the last three decades I’ve dug on sites from Yorkshire to the Czech Republic.

My obsessions started early, and were fuelled (perhaps predictably) by books. The year was 1972, I was at primary school, and I was given a book token for my birthday. I bought a copy of Noel Streatfield’s The Boy Pharaoh: Tutankhamen. It was the first book I remember buying for myself. And it had everything – gold, the ancient past, a killer curse and the untimely death of a young boy who ruled the richest nation on earth.

I was hooked. And my local library fed my passions. Housed in the village hall, it consisted of two enormous woodworm-riddled cupboards. There was barely a word of non-fiction in it, but it did have the historical novels of Mary Renault and just about every word Agatha Christie has ever written.

The ability to conjure up a far-away place or a long-dead person and to share the story with someone you’ve never met seemed to me then, as it still does now, a magical thing. And it was those books that made me want to become a story teller.

As a teenager I spent all my summers on an archaeological dig on a hilltop in the Cotswolds. That hilltop – Crickley Hill – and the last vestiges of the Iron Age people whose secrets lay buried on it, were to become the spark that inspired The Lost Shrine.  For me the fascination of archaeology doesn’t lie just in the ancient artefacts we unearth. It’s the chance they give us to meet people from forgotten worlds and the opportunity to tell their tales that excites me.

Archaeologists and crime writers have a lot in common. We have a fascination with digging into other people’s lives and deaths, and a deep-seated desire to take others with us on our journeys.

As an archaeologist I’ve worked on Prehistoric, Roman and Medieval sites across Britain and Europe. My research interests range from prehistoric technology (how to make a stone arrowhead), to past landscapes (how to spot a long-lost burial ground) and how to piece together the mysteries of ancient rituals and religion.

To do this it takes a team effort – just like the fictional Hart Unit featured in my Hills and Barbrook novels. And my colleagues and I call upon a vast array of scientific techniques. But much of our time is spent literally piecing together the physical evidence from the past. And it’s that real-world archaeological experience digging up and investigating the dead – working out how they lived and why they died – that I use to bring my crime writing to life and to tell the stories of those who can no longer speak for themselves.

You can find out more about Nicola and what inspires her crime writing here and at

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