Elly Griffiths, “A Room Full of Bones”

Ruth Galloway is a great character for a detective series:  overweight, cranky, insecure in every area but her profession, which happens to be forensic archaeology. Which is to say, Ruth studies old bones. What a terrific premise! Teamed with the hyper-prickly police detective Harry Nelson, to handle the technical stuff like actually cuffing the perpetrators, Ruth has now solved four mysteries on England’s Norfolk coast. Unfortunately, A Room Full of Bones doesn’t rise to the level of the three previous books.

Ruth’s new neighbor on the Saltmarsh also plays the digeridoo.

Some of the difficulty arises from the perennial challenges of a mystery series. Elly Griffiths has to keep referring back to previous episodes and juggling familiar secondary characters while keeping everyone moving forward. Fortunately, there’s a lot of tension and a certain amount of humor in this group. Nelson’s relationship with his wife Michelle provides the former and Ruth’s ditsy friend Shona provides the latter. What’s more Michelle now knows that Ruth’s baby Kate is, yikes! Nelson’s. Great touch.

And, yes, there are dead bodies. All over the place, actually. The usual breakdown is that Nelson attends to the recently dead while Ruth solves the older puzzles, but Griffiths engages in some misdirection here by bringing in Aboriginal folklore and a subplot about repatriation of some native Australian remains, along with an animal-rights movement red herring and the possibility of a curse. Druid Cathbad reappears, enigmatically as always. Long dream sequences à la Craig Johnson occur. The ultimate solution of the contemporary murders can be attributed to magic or not (in the style of Fred Vargas)– the drug ring, though, gets sorted. It all seemed slightly perfunctory and even Griffiths‘ usual sharp narrative voice seemed a little bit muffled. I’m hoping she returns to form for the next book, which I’m sure is already under way.

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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3 Responses to Elly Griffiths, “A Room Full of Bones”

  1. Alex says:

    Yes, this is the weak one so far. I’m just hoping it is the dip that every good series will inevitably have and not a sign that making that very interesting combination of narrative voice and tense work is beginning to tell. As someone who researches in this area, I know how difficult moving away from the canonical, neutral third person voice in the past tense can be and holding this ironic first person, present tense narration must take a lot of energy.

  2. carolwallace says:

    Alex, I couldn’t agree more. I was especially conscious, this time around, of Griffiths’ choice of the present tense and how she roams among consciousnesses in the narration. I think your point about energy is especially astute: the narrative seemed a little bit enervated. I join your hope — I think we’re all rooting for Elly Griffiths!

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

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