‘Comfort read’ is a term much maligned in the book reviewing world. It conjurers up images of ‘cosy’ books with settings far removed from the realities of everyday life. But a recent post by Reactions to Reading discussed some of the series that have had a long-standing place in the reviewer’s affections. And we all have them. The books of the late, great Tony Hillerman were a massive comfort read for me and I still read them, even though I know there won’t be any more written. And there was nothing ‘cosy’ about his books.
A modern writer whose series is fast becoming a favourite is Elly Griffiths. Set in Norfolk, her books feature forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway who is now a single mother after her short-lived affair with DCI Harry Nelson. In Dying Fall, the setting moves to the North West of England, my old stomping ground and it was great to read the now familiar cast of characters in a new setting.
Daniel Golding, an old university friend of Ruth, burns to death in a house fire. Ruth is surprised to hear that her once ambitious and charismatic friend has been languishing in a small university near Pendle in the north of England. Days after his death, she receives a letter from him telling her of a discovery he has made involving the ancient ‘Raven King’ and urging her to get involved. Ruth decides to go north, taking her daughter Kate and accompanied by Cathbad, her druid friend. DCI Nelson has also decided to take a holiday to his home town of Blackpool where he calls on an old police colleague to see how the investigation is progressing. Police are now treating the death as suspicious and a member of a far-right white supremacist group is thought to be the most likely suspect.
The change of scenery worked well, although I think part of the enjoyment was recognising many of places including Pendle Hill, Lytham and Blackpool. For me, the attraction of the series is that the character of Ruth Galloway and I are about the same age. So the cultural references to the 80s and 90s are spot on, and I can recognise the surprise you feel at successful friends at university who have failed to live up to their promise while others have taken a different path in life.
The murder investigation was enjoyable although I wasn’t that engaged in the far-right aspect of the case. There might be people looking to hark back to the days of King Arthur but in my experience racist groups tend to be far less articulate than that. The characters though, as ever, were an absolute delight and there was a heart-stopping moment towards the end when I thought I was about to lose one of my favourites. This series just keeps getting better and better and, for me, the next book can’t come around soon enough.
I received a copy from the publisher, Quercus. The book has also been reviewed at Raven Crime Reads