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.
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.