Am I old? No, don’t answer that. Old-fashioned, then? Is that why present-tense narration rubs me the wrong way? I think I understand the rationale: as a writer, you might want to get closer, always closer to the story you are telling. Sometimes using the present tense instead of the past does seem more, well, immediate. It feels almost filmic and now that I think of it, maybe the technique comes from film since screenplays are so readily available for reading by the layman. Or maybe now that so many of the conventions of reading-as-entertainment are breaking up, the traditional past tense seems stuffy.
Well, I know I’m stuffy. And I have to admit that present-tense narration puts me off, rather than beckoning me further. But I’ll add in my own defense that it’s a minor issue and that when the book in question is as good as Elly Griffiths’ The Crossing Places, I’ll overlook it completely (after a few pages). Because this is one splendid murder mystery. Here’s why:
1 — fabulous protagonist. Brilliant, overweight, pushing forty, likeable but strong-minded, Dr. Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist who specializes in ancient bones. She lives in a tiny cottage on the edge of the Norfolk marshes, with two cats and no romantic partner. It’s the bones that get her mixed up in the murder.
2 — fabulous setting. Griffiths places the action in the Saltmarsh, a (fictional) spooky, captivating salt water marsh, home to millions of birds and terrible weather as well as to an Iron Age skeleton that gets Ruth involved with the police. I especially admired the way Griffiths built to her climax which we knew would involve the Saltmarsh in a terrifying way. Possibly because of the use of water, I was reminded of Susan Hill’s marvelous The Woman in Black.
3 — romance. Nuff said.
4 — good plot. Good-ish, that is. Adequate number of clues, red herrings, scary stuff, funeral, procedure, etc. I’m pretty easily satisfied on this front. After all, with murder mysteries it’s pretty much always the same.
Oh, and since I’m on epistemology-watch when I read mysteries, I was excited that these are the last sentences of the book:
‘Seems to me it’s all a lot of guesswork,’ says Nelson.
Ruth smiles. ‘The questions are more important than the answers.’
‘If you say so.'”
Guess the policeman doesn’t like guesswork as much as the academic. Me, I don’t much care, since there are two more books in the series.