Saturday, March 10, 2012

The House at Sea's End

Raise your hand if you get happy all over when you discovery that a much enjoyed, new-to-you author has multiple titles waiting for you to gobble up. Yeah, me too!

The “new” author is Elly Griffiths and the books are her series of mysteries featuring detective Ruth Galloway. I came upon Elly and Ruth while browsing at my local. The cover of their latest book , The House atSea’s End, hit a number of my impulse purchase buttons. The unevent typeface, house of nooks and crannies, the cliff, the stone barrier, the sea and the almost monochromatic tone of the palette all combine in a siren song way for me.

Ruth is a forensic archaeologist. Her Born Again parents have left their mark. She’s brainy, independent, forty-ish, chubby, not fashionbale, a bit awkward and in general a difficult person. Things in her life are messy but she’s no tortured loner—although she would just as soon be left alone.  Though of course she has two cats.

The first of the three Ruth Galloway mysteries is The Crossing Places.  Ruth is living the quiet life in an area of England known as Saltmarsh in Norfolk. Oddly enough the local detective inspector, Harry Nelson, calls on Ruth because he needs help identifying a body. Nelson has been taunted by letters for years regarding the unsolved case of a child. I know. Poor fictional policemen so lost without the local historian, middle school teacher, scientist, librarian or spinster! It’s a hairy old beginning for an amateur detective but it gets it all started up.

Second in the series is The Janus Stone. This time the demolition of an old home in Norfolk leads to the discovery of a body and Nelson again asks Ruth for forensic and historical help.  Roman gods, sacrifice, a charismatic priest, a questionable new age spiritualist, an Iron Age excavation, adultery and romance all mix together with atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere to great effect.

Third up is where I first came in, The House at Sea’s End. Six well persevered skeletons are reason enough for Nelson to call in Ruth Galloway, right? The bones turn out to be German and date back to World War II. The dead in Norfolk really pile up when a visiting German journalist and several octogenarians who might have been witnesses or accomplices to murder also bite the dust. It’s nice and complicated.

Elly Griffiths has done a bang up job. Ruth Galloway is a stand out among amateur sleuths. Aside from that universal Not A People Person quality that is wired into the fictional DNA of every detective, pro or part timer, ever created since 1940, Ruth is unique. She can be tough to enjoy even for the reader at times but she is completely three dimensional and worthy of the time you want to spend with her.
 The ancient history worked into the books is natural given Ruth’s work but Griffiths makes it organic to the stories and not a display of her own research. Each of these mysteries feels as though it couldn’t possibly take place anywhere else but Norfolk. Griffiths is building a world in this series and she is doing a fantastic job.

The fourth book for Elly and Ruth, A Room Full of Bones is due out in July 2012!

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