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.