Elly Griffiths, “The House at Sea’s End”

I’ve been wondering how Elly Griffiths would manage expanding the Ruth Galloway series. I really liked her two earlier books, The Crossing Places and The Janus Stone but as I’ve written over and over again here, maintaining the momentum in a mystery series requires keeping a lot of balls in the air. And I was a little concerned, too, about Griffiths‘ principal protagonist. After all — how many plots are there for a single, overweight forensic archaeologist living in rural Norfolk?

Sandstone cliffs vs. North Sea = losing battle

Well, there are at least three really satisfying ones, which is surprising since someone has to discover old bones in order to drag Dr. Ruth Galloway into the story. In this case the location — always important in Griffiths‘ books — is an eroded cliff on the Norfolk coast. Atop the cliff sits Sea’s End House, a mansion dating from the 1930s, inhabited by the upper-crust family of Jack Hastings. But what makes this more interesting than the usual English Country House scenario is precisely that erosion. The land on which the house is built has been reclaimed by the sea so that only a few yards of grass remain between house and cliff. Hmmm… metaphor for the ground being cut away beneath the upper class?

Actually, I don’t think so. Griffiths is too interested in her characters’ emotional lives to have a class-struggle axe to grind. The relationship between prickly, brilliant Ruth and prickly, abrupt police detective Harry Nelson continues to evolve in the only way you’d want it to — more and more complicated. The opening scene of the novel involves Ruth, Nelson, and Nelson’s beautiful wife Michelle. I liked it so much I had to read it twice. Incredibly clever, the way Griffiths pulls away from the characters here and sees them in pantomime, as it were. One of the most difficult choices for a novelist is deciding where to focus your narrative: if you think of the author’s voice as a camera lens, it can zoom really close, into someone’s head, or zoom out to panoramic scope. Changing the focus, as Griffiths does in that scene, can be a sharply effective way to grab your reader’s attention.

And the plot, you ask? In this case the old bones turn out to be those of six German soldiers who appear to have been executed about 70 years ago. (Do the math.) The new deaths necessary to involve Harry Nelson are those of survivors who might be able to tell how the bones were buried. Did you know that the Norfolk coast was prepared for a German invasion in World War II? Want to know more? The House at Sea’s End has the rest of the story.

Publishing note: I read this on my Kindle, and I see that it’s not being released in the US in a physical version until January 2012.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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7 Responses to Elly Griffiths, “The House at Sea’s End”

  1. Nancy Casserley says:

    I’m not a mystery reader, as you well know, but you make Ruth Galloway sound so appealing that I have just downloaded The Crossing Places onto my Kindle to read by the pool at Reschio. I may work my way up to The House at Sea’s End depending on how this one goes. I should probably be reading Aurelio Zen in Italy, but I think that Norfolk and Umbria might just be a nice juxtaposition!

  2. carolwallace says:

    Oh, gosh, Nancy, what a responsibility! I do think the gloomy weather would be a contrast with summer in Umbria, but shouldn’t you be reading something heady about the Subcontinent? Do let me know how it goes — and take a swim in your lovely pool for me! XXX

  3. Nathalie Foy says:

    I’m just coming off a Kate Atkinson-a-thon, and this sounds like just the ticket for the next mystery series. Thanks!

  4. carolwallace says:

    Yes, Nathalie, she’s really good. The only problem is — only three books! Have you read Anne Cleeves? She’s next for me. There’s a series set in the Shetland Islands.

    • Nathalie Foy says:

      No, the only Anne Cleeves I know was one of Henry’s wives (Cleves?) I like the sound of books set in the Shetlands. We are planning a trip to Scotland. I’ll look out for your reviews!

  5. Pingback: Follow my book blog, “Book Group of One” | | Carol Wallace BooksCarol Wallace Books

  6. Pingback: Ann Cleeves, “The Crow Trap” « Book Group of One

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