Review: Elly Griffiths – Dying Fall

Dying Fall‘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

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.