Elly Griffiths has created one of my favorite mystery characters in Ruth Galloway. She’s smart and aggressive. While she appears very self-confident, especially in her field of archaeology, she has her own insecurities. I found it really enlightening the way she grew as a character, most notably in her relationship with her parents. Harry Nelson, the other main character and Ruth’s foil (and possible love interest) was drawn equally well. I’m sure we’ve all known his type: outwardly gruff men who take no nonsense from the world, going through life like a bull in a china shop. Their growing mutual respect (and affection) in this story seems natural and realistic. It makes you wonder if there may be something more between them in the future. Other than what happens in this book, of course. The remaining characters seem equally believable, if not quite as deep.
Nelson and Galloway meet when he calls upon her to examine some bones found buried in the marsh. He’s hopeful that they belong to a young girl who was kidnapped ten years before, so he can bring some closure both to the case and to the girl’s parents. Of course, they’re much older than ten years. That would appear to be the end of the story, but when a second girl is taken and all signs point to the crime being related to the earlier case, Ruth becomes more involved with the police investigation. Letters received in both cases require Ruth’s special knowledge to unravel, and they point to a location has having particular importance.
This location (and its setting) become a third major character in the book. It’s the tidal marsh along Norfolk’s north shore and, coincidentally, where Ruth Galloway lives. It’s very isolated, with few neighbors. The book takes place in the dead of winter, with storms coming in off the sea. It’s dark, cold, and the perfect location for the book. Griffiths knows her location well, and uses her knowledge to create one of the most, moody, claustrophobic atmospheres I’ve ever encountered. Ruth participated in an archaeological dig on the marsh ten years previously, and has stayed there ever since. The marsh becomes such an integral part of the story that I can’t imagine it happening anywhere else.
I can recommend this wholeheartedly to anyone who likes contemporary British mysteries, especially if they enjoy stories with a unique atmosphere and a pretty surprising ending. I know I’m really looking forward to checking out the second Ruth Galloway book, The Janus Stone, as soon as the library gets it.
Find out more at Elly Griffiths’ website.