The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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March 2, 2011

The Perils of Ruth

‘Are they human?’
‘I think so, yes. But…’
‘But what?’
‘They weren’t buried.’
Nelson squats down beside her. ‘What do you mean?’
‘A burial is a disturbance. It disturbs the layers. Everything would be churned up. Look at this.’ She gestures at the sides of the hole. ‘Here’s the grave cut. Under all these layers. These bones were laid on the ground and, over the centuries, the earth has covered them.’
‘Over the centuries?’
‘I think they’re Iron Age. Like the other ones.’
Someone on a blog (not sure who, but thank you!) mentioned The Crossing Places, and since I’m always happy to find a new mystery series to follow, I borrowed it from the library. Elly Griffith’s amateur sleuth is Ruth Galloway, a university professor and forensic anthropologist, socially ungraceful, single, forty-ish, fat, and beautiful when she smiles. She lives in a cottage on the edge of the Saltmarsh, on the coast of Norfolk, with neighbors she has barely met (weekenders on one side and the bird sanctuary warden on the other). The Saltmarsh is what gives the book its atmosphere and its setting, full of buried paths, mud, dangerous tides, water-covered marshes and a ‘henge’ of buried timbers. It was the site of an archaeological dig, ten years earlier, that gives the characters (Ruth, Peter, Erik, Magda, Shona, Cathbad) their places in the plot and that may have something to do with the other bodies that Ruth uncovers. There is an almost-inevitable (and eventful) attraction between Ruth and tall, gruff, married, secretly sensitive Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, which ends up driving a lot of the plot.

When The Janus Stone (the second book in the series) opens, Ruth and Nelson have come together, and apart, and … (I don’t think this is really a spoiler) and there are new bones (Victorian? modern?) under the entrance of an old mansion being demolished for luxury flats. There’s good humor again in places, which I always appreciate, and more interesting bits of information about mythology (Roman, this time) and ancient customs. What’s a little disappointing is that there’s also a whole new set of romantic entanglements and much more murderous mayhem for poor Ruth to get through; it’s all just a little too much, and too much of the same.

Ruth screams so loudly that it startles both of them. {X} stops and looks at her quizzically.
‘Why are you frightened?’ he asks.
‘Why do you think?’ shouts Ruth. ‘I’m stuck here on a boat with a madman. A madman with a knife.’
{X} looks hurt. ‘I’m not mad,’ he says. ‘I’ve got a first in classics from Cambridge.’
But, that being said, The Crossing Places was a quick, light, engaging, enjoyable read, and The Janus Stone (which I read right afterwards) was very good company for another few hours. I know I was turning pages pressing that little > button as fast as I could at the not-very-believable end. A third Ruth Galloway mystery, The House at Seas End, was just published in the UK and I’ll look for it (and look forward to it) when it comes out here.

I read {most} mysteries the way I watch TV…for a break, for entertainment, to fill an hour, and sometimes (now that I have multiple ways to feed my addiction to audiobooks) for company while I’m doing something else. This means that I don’t hold them to the highest of literary standards. It’s wonderful beyond measure if they are psychologically compelling (without being too creepy), romantic, suspenseful, atmospheric (without being too creepy), historically or scientifically interesting. and/or well-written, but it’s mostly OK with me if they’re only working towards that.

{I read an advance reading copy of The Janus Stone, published here in January, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt}.

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lyn said...

I really enjoyed the first 2 books & have just picked up the 3rd from the library. I love the relationship between Ruth & Harry & the archaeological themes.

Ann said...

I've just read 'The House at Sea's End' and really enjoyed it. For me the most enjoyable aspect of the books is the most unusual narrative voice with it's rather wry sense of humour. I find myself reading passages aloud just for the sheer pleasure of experiencing the cadence.

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