Review: Elly Griffiths – A Room Full of Bones

A Room Full of Bones is the fourth book by Elly Griffiths featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway and Norfolk Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. Griffiths manages to leave the end of each book, if not on a cliffhanger, with enough suspense that you are always keen to see what happens next. The last book The House at Sea’s End had Michelle, the glamorous wife of DCI Harry Nelson beginning to suspect that Ruth’s infant daughter with an unnamed father is her husband’s child. However the author doesn’t plunge us straight into this plot strand but starts the book with the first death that Nelson has to investigate.

Ruth is scheduled to attend the official opening of the mediaeval coffin of a Norfolk Bishop. The prelate is also the ancestor of a prominent Norfolk family, headed by Lord Danforth Smith, who owns the museum where the ceremony will take place. Before the coffin can be opened however, the curator of the museum, Neil Topham, is found dead next to the sarcophagus. Although death is ruled the result of natural causes, Nelson’s interest is sufficiently piqued to look into the background of all the Smith family.

When a second person connected to the mediaeval bishop is found dead rumours circulate of an ancient curse that is affecting all those who come into contact with the body. Meanwhile a group of people are pressurising the museum to return the aboriginal skulls that have been languishing in the museum’s store. Led by the druid Cathbad, he once more plays a catalytic role when danger comes to both Ruth and Nelson.

After the previous three books, I found that I was reading this as much for the characters as the crime that Nelson has to solve. The protagonists are now settling down into their respective roles and many of the subsidiary characters of the previous books are given more substance in this one. These include Shona, now pregnant and living with Phil, Ruth’s boss and Nelson’s wife Michelle, who is given a much sympathetic portrayal as the betrayed wife struggling to come to terms with Nelson and Ruth’s previous relationship and the baby daughter who looks so like her father.

The actual murder investigation was interesting and became more complex than it initially appeared. I’m not sure I completely believed the background to either the deaths or to the subsidiary crime that the Smith family become embroiled in but it was an enjoyable read.

But the true strength of Elly Griffith’s writing is her focus on characterisation and the relationships that interweave between groups of people. She effectively conveys the hurt and complex feelings that can result from unthinking indiscretions and somehow these become integral to the narrative.

The book has been reviewed at Reactions to Reading, Eurocrime and Novel Heights.

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17 thoughts on “Review: Elly Griffiths – A Room Full of Bones

  1. I really enjoy this series. I thought that the crime/mystery plot in this one was better than in the first two, but I was not so enamoured of the characterisation this time as I felt there was too much detail about Ruth’s childminding logistics, etc. I will continue to read the series, but I hope that the proportion of detection:childcare is different in the next book. I loved those “cliffhangers” you mention at the end of each book, but I find the “aftereffects” of the cliffhangers, ie normal life, a bit less interesting, I suppose. I do think this is one of the best English crime series being written today, though. (Not that I’ve read all of the possible candidates!)

    • Interesting Maxine as it was the domestic details that I enjoyed in this book. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next installment.

  2. Sarah – An excellent review, for which thanks. I really do like this series very much, and I particularly like the Ruth Galloway character. One of the things that I especially enjoy about these novels is the way Griffiths places the reader so clearly in the setting. It’s woven quite well throughout the novels I think. I agree too that Griffiths does a very effective job at creating interesting murder investigations.

    • Yes I didn’t mention the Norfolk setting this time Margot but you are absolutely right – you feel drawn to the bleak landscape particularly by Ruth’s house.

  3. the discussion of the domestic side of life in this series is similar to comments being made about a similar theme to the Camilla Lackberg novels over at the Friend Feed thread. It’s a fine line I think that these authors have to draw – at least for me. I can’t help but enjoy this series though – I just find the characters so engaging.

  4. Hi Bernadette – yes I agree with the parallels with the Camilla Lackberg discussion, Interestingly Lackberg is also one of my favourite writers although I wouldn’t immediately have identified the domestic detail as a reason why. But the additional of the personal obviously adds something that I like.

  5. Pingback: The Best of March’s Reading. « crimepieces

    • Hello Gunnar and thanks for leaving a comment. I’m glad you like this series and I’m intrigued that it has been translated into Swedish. I think the books would appeal to Scandinavian readers as they are strong on the sense of place, like some Swedish writers.

  6. I’ve never read Elly Griffiths, but I’ll give this series a try. One reason I haven’t read her yet is because I don’t really like the Kathy Reichs books about Tempe Brennan, also a forensic anthrolopologist, but that’s not really a good reason not to try Griffiths.

    • The book is a completely different style to the Kathy Reichs books, Rebecca. They don’t focus on the intricate forensic details, they are much more relationship based. I would start with the first book and see how you get on.

  7. The Elly Griffiths books are nothing like Kathy Reichs’ books.
    What I like in Griffiths’ books is Ruth Galloway. She is a believable woman. She is not thin, not glamorous, can’t do karate or speak five languages. She doesn’t work out or dress beautifully or have her hair styled — nor does she care about all of this. She is like a real person and is concerned about her job, her child and her friends, not superficial things. And she’s middle-aged and has no problem with that.
    I look forward to this book, as I’ve read the first three. Wherever Ruth Galloway goes, I’m following.

    • I was introduced to Elly Griffiths by Bernadette at Reactions to Reading and Maxine at Petrona. She is my major find since I started blogging, a home grown English crime writer where the landscape comes alive.

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