Crime Fiction

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Elly Griffiths

A bit about the very enjoyable Ruth Galloway series...
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Late last year I discovered the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. I found the first book (The Crossing Places) at the library and thought I’d give it a try; and having enjoyed it enormously I was delighted to realise there were 11 more to read. I’m slowly working through the series in order.

There’s nothing very ‘noir’ about these books. Yes, there are murders and they’re sometimes gruesome. The plots can be tense and quite dramatic. But the writing is never gratuitous – no lingering, grisly descriptions of dead bodies, gore, or violence. These books are an easy and enjoyable read.

Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist, teaching at a university in Norfolk and living in a remote cottage at a place called Saltmarsh. In the first book the police ask for her help when a child’s bones are found on a nearby beach. It turns out the bones are 2,000 years old but by that time Ruth has been drawn into a ten-year old case involving a missing girl called Lucy Downey, and she’s met DCI Harry Nelson.

Ruth is an unlikely heroine – ordinary, not glamorous. But she’s bright, sparky and self-deprecating. Nelson, in contrast, is rather dour and inclined to grumpiness. I don’t want to give too much away, but the two of them make a great pair. Plus, there’s a good cast of characters who liven up the mix – from Ruth’s university colleagues and the police team, to a druid known as Cathbad.

The writing style is interesting. Griffiths allows us to share the thoughts of her protagonists in a very personal way. You ‘hear’ their inner-voices. In Ruth’s case these can range from agonising about why she can’t look more glamorous, to wondering whether having a glass of wine in the evening makes her a bad mother. Nelson’s are often expressing bewilderment about the people he’s dealing with - particularly the women in his life. But the asides are funny and human and make the characters pop out of the page. You feel you’re getting to know them as people.

I recommended the series to our book group and Clover recently read The House at Sea’s End and enjoyed it – rating it 4.5 Stars. It's the third book in the series and about the discovery of six skeletons on a Norfolk beach after a cliff fall. Forensic tests prove the bodies date back 60 years to a secret wartime plan to stop a German invasion, and as the investigation unfolds there are more murders to solve. Clover found the book true-to-life and enjoyed the interesting and off-beat characters (particularly Cathbad). She also liked the connections to archaeology and modern forensic investigative technology.

Freyja wasn't impressed by these books. She read A Room Full of Bones, the fourth book in the series and a story of murder in a small museum in Kings Lynn, involving the drugs trade, race horse trainers, native Australians and much more. Reporting back to the group she expressed her disappointment saying she felt there was too much back story to explain and that she found the crimes rather pedestrian. She rated it no more than 2-3 stars.

What this demonstrates, of course, is that we all like different things. And, for myself, I have to admit that some weeks I'm in the mood to enjoy darker crimes than others. Freyja isn't a great fan of crime series, preferring standalone novels - particularly psychological thrillers. Clover and myself enjoy series, particularly those involving detectives. When all is said and done I guess we tend to pick up books that sound similar to things we've already read and enjoyed. But that's one of the reasons our book group is such fun. We push each other to try new authors and books and sometimes that can be a revelation - good and bad!

If you decide to try the Ruth Galloway series start at book one if you can. For me, reading the first few in the right order built my enjoyment of the characters. I don’t suppose it would matter much if I skipped around the remaining titles now, but actually I don’t want to. I’m enjoying the series too much the way I’m reading it, so I’ll continue as I am. And I'll wait to hear that the books have been snapped up for a TV series because I think they tick all the boxes.

Oh, and Elly Griffiths has also written the Stephens and Mephisto series, which totals five books so far and seems to be set in the 1950s, plus two standalone novels. So, if you decide you like this author, there are plenty more of her books to enjoy.
Cornish Eskimo

If you enjoy reading crime fiction why not come along to one of our meetings? They’re on the third Friday of every month, 2.30pm @ Oundle Library. It’s all very informal because we don’t have a set reading list. We do, however, enjoy a wide-ranging chat about the books we’ve read and enjoyed. Everyone welcome!