Review: Elly Griffiths – The Crossing Places

Since I’ve started blogging I’ve noticed that Elly Griffiths has been getting excellent reviews from other crime fiction reviewers. I’m keen to read more British crime books and have had an excellent run of reading recently with offerings from Stav Sherez and Peter May. Although she writes in a different vein, Elly Griffiths has been added to my list of authors to catch up on.

Dr Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist at a Norfolk university where she specialises in ancient bones. In her late thirties and slightly overweight she lives with her two cats, Sparky and Flint, in a remote cottage overlooking a salt marsh.

When a child’s bones are found buried on the marsh, DCI Harry Nelson asks Ruth to take a look and she confirms that they are iron age relics left possibly following an ancient ritual. The marsh was a sacred place for iron age inhabitants and Lucy was involved in an archaeological dig ten years earlier on an ancient wooden henge. Nelson is disappointed that the bones aren’t those of Lucy Downey, a five year old girl who went missing just after the dig ten years earlier and Ruth becomes drawn into the story. When another girl disappears she is asked to look at a series of taunting letters full of biblical and literary quotes that taunt the police on the whereabouts of the children.

The book was an absorbing read  The two lead protagonists Ruth and Nelson were interesting characters – complicated personalities and given plenty of depth. The descriptions of discovering and retrieving artefacts from the past was fascinating and made very atmospheric by the bleak marshland setting. The kidnapping of young girls is a difficult subject to write about. There are different resolutions to the two girls’ stories and I found one more convincing than another, particularly as the motive is never explained.  The letters written by the alleged kidnapper provided a nice subplot and some interesting ancillary characters including Shona, Ruth’s glamorous but lost friend and Erik Anderssen her former tutor and mentor.

The book is written in the present tense, something I normally like but here I felt slightly intruded on the story. I also wasn’t sure how much the reader was supposed to work out for themselves. It was fairly clear early on what had happened to Lucy Downey and I also worked out the identity of the kidnapper despite some other suspects crossing our paths. But overall it was a very enjoyable book and I have now ordered the rest of the series and am looking forward to catching up.

Other reviews are at Eurocrime, Petrona and Books Please. A review of the audio book is at Reactions to Reading.

Review: Kathryn Fox – Skin and Bone

Participating the Australian Women Writers Challenge is an interesting experince as we don’t have a huge amount of Australian crime fiction written by women published in the UK. This means that I can’t pick and choose as I ordinarily would but have to read books out of my comfort zone. One author who is easily found here is Kathryn Fox, a medical practitioner who writes books in the forensic genre. It’s not a type of book that I normally buy although I have read Patricia Cornwall and Kathy Reichs in the past. I chose Skin and Bone for no other reason than the plot summary seemed to be the least gory of the blurbs.

A dead woman is found badly burned in a house fire and post-mortem evidence suggests that she has recently given birth. There is no evidence of the missing baby and Detective Kate Farrer who has recently returned from sick leave has to try to identify the mother to solve the mystery of the baby’s disappearance. After a few days, however, she and her new partner, Oliver Parke, are pulled from the case and assigned to investigate the disappearance of the daughter of wealthy parents. As they delve deeper into the apparent abduction, the two cases begin to merge and the detectives plunge into a complex web of relationships.

I found the book a straightforward read. The plotting is good and the idea of a female detective with a partner who is the father to five children was a nice idea. The writer obviously knows a great deal about forensic medicine and the descriptions of death by fire were fairly gruesome but written about in a knowledgable way. Fox writes well about family relationships and there were some quite interesting dynamics going on in the book, particularly in relation to the stepfather-stepdaughter relationship.

I thought some of the writing a bit pedestrian although the book is clearly written for a specific audience who I imagine like a fast and engrossing read. I would have preferred a bit more depth to the book because I found the subject matter interesting. But considering it is a genre I don’t normally approach, I enjoyed it and it was nice to read something outside my comfort zone.

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