Review: Elly Griffiths – The Outcast Dead

outcastdead200Elly Griffith’s books, featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway, remain one of my ‘must read’ series. The books have been of a consistently good quality and, even when Griffiths changes the Norfolk setting, have retained a strong sense of place. There’s also a feeling of movement in the novels and characters lives are constantly changing. After a foray into Lancashire, in The Outcast Dead the characters are back in Norfolk and Ruth Galloway is sucked into a case of a missing child.

During an excavation, a body is found in the grounds of Norwich Castle which may be that of the infamous Victorian child killer Jemima Green, known as Mother Hook. The discovery prompts the arrival of a crew from a salacious TV series. Meanwhile, DCI Harry Nelson is investigating the death of three children whose mother is suspected of having smothered them. When another child goes missing, the sense of urgency increases as the team look for a man or woman whose motives defy even the most experienced profiler.

The emphasis on the death of children in this book is a difficult subject for a crime novel but Griffiths does well to write about the abductions and murders with a light touch. The historical context for one set of murders helps, and the whole book is set in an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion.

The central characters, familiar to Grififths readers, are moving on with their lives: Ruth still fantasises of a future with Harry even though she knows its impossible and Judy, a detective on Harry’s team, is attempting to continue with her family life while knowing that the father of her baby is the druid, Cathbad. There is a sense of overlap with some of the stories. Judy’s concealment of her baby’s paternity has echoes of Ruth’s in earlier books. Similarly, the theft of a baby also references back to an earlier child abduction which ended disastrously. But the series retains a consistency that is remarkable considering we are now on book number six.

In spite of references in the book to earlier novels, I still think a reader new to this series could start with The Outcast Dead. For existing fans, this series will continue to delight.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.

Review: Duncan Jepson – Emperors Once More

emperorsoncemoreI’ve recently read a couple of books set in the near future, all of which were united by the sense of impending catastrophe. Emperors Once More by Duncan Jepson is set in 2017 but the world, at first, doesn’t appear to be vastly different to that of now. However, all of the European Union is in economic crisis and has been bailed out by China. It is about to default on its debts and many Chinese feel it’s now time that old slurs and insults are avenged. Detective Alex Soong from the Hong Kong police is asked to investigate the murder of two Methodist ministers, whose deaths are quickly followed by the discovery of a gruesome massacre. The brutality of the killings has echoes of the atrocities of the Boxer Rebellion, which results in Alex approaching a renowned historian to help identify links to the past.

Despite its 2017 setting, the book has the feel of a present day thriller. Hong Kong hasn’t changed beyond recognition although the ever-watching presence of the media appears to have escalated to the extent that there is a running commentary on everything that Alex does. He is given an interesting back story: his parents were forced to give up their daughters under the one child policy and Alex is determined, one day, to track them down. He is married to the beautiful Jun, who refuses to engage in any discussion about the darker side of his job but is unwittingly dragged into the investigation.

The book is a compelling read both in terms of the pull of the narrative and enticing the reader into empathising with the central characters, which is key given some of the events that occur later in the book. One of the Jepson’s greatest strengths is the way in which he manages to write about the ferocity of the violence with a restraint that can be missing in other crime fiction writers. There is clearly more milage left in Alex Soong; Emperors Once More is the first in a trilogy and it will be interesting to see how the characters develop given  the changes that have taken place in their lives.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.