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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Thrilling Thursday Review: The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

Great start to a crime series featuring an archaeology lecturer for this week's Thrilling Thursday.

Author: Elly Griffiths
Title: The Crossing Places
Genre: Crime (adult)
Series: Ruth Galloway - this is the first
Publisher: Quercus
Published: Oct 2010
Source: purchased on my kindle

Find it at Goodreads or Amazon UK  

Product description from Amazon:
When she's not digging up bones or other ancient objects, Ruth Galloway lectures at the University of North Norfolk. She lives happily alone in a remote, wild place called Saltmarsh overlooking the North Sea under Norfolk's vast skies. For company she has her cats Flint and Sparky, and Radio 4. When a child's bones are found in the marshes near an ancient site that Ruth worked on ten years earlier, Ruth is asked to date them. The bones turn out to be two thousand years old, and DCI Harry Nelson, who called on Ruth for help, is disappointed. He'd hoped they would be the bones of a child called Lucy who's been missing for ten years. He's been getting letters about her ever since - bizarre notes with references to ritual and sacrifice and quoting the Bible and Shakespeare.Then a second girl goes missing and Nelson receives another letter similar to the ones about Lucy. Soon it becomes clear that Ruth is in grave danger from a killer who knows that her expert knowledge is being used to help the police with their enquiries.

My verdict: Engaging crime read blending archaeology and policework, set on the desolate Norfolk coast.
The setting was the pull for this one for me; I grew up in East Anglia and have surprised myself lately by finding that I still have a soft spot for the area. The Saltmarsh featured in the novel is invented (as Griffiths clearly indicates in the Author's Note), but it's entirely plausible as a Norfolk place. It is clear that Griffiths knows the Norfolk coast well and she writes of it with affection, but without romanticising and minimising its bleakness.

If the setting was the initial attraction, Ruth Galloway's character was what kept me in it for the long haul. Unusual and rather awkward, she's a great creation. Her academic life and motivation ring true and her interaction with Harry Nelson, who doesn't really know what to make of her, is a great touch. Most of the novel is told from her point of view, although not in the first person, which means we can also sometimes get a glimpse of something that Ruth isn't privy to.

The plot is involving and well-constructed, with plenty of possible culprits and red herrings. The tension is ramped up when it becomes clear that Ruth herself is in danger, and the wildness of the setting really comes into its own at this point, adding further complications.

Overall, this was a most enjoyable read and I will definitely be reading the rest of the series. Using Ruth's archaeological expertise gives it a different angle from other crime series, and the bleak rural setting provides an additional edge. Harry Nelson is a complex character too, and I'm sure there's still a lot of character (and plot) development to come in further books, as we end with a cliffhanger in terms of Ruth's personal life. I'm glad to say that it seems this won't be one of those series where the key characters are 'back in their places' at the start of each book, and nothing really moves on. 

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