Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What we're reading: Archaeological mysteries

Continuing with the Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths...I found A Dying Fall on the new book shelves and took it home last weekend, only to discover, when I opened it, that Ruth's daughter Kate is 18 months old, while at the end of the last book I read, she hadn't been born yet! That can't be right, I thought, so I checked the list of "Books by Elly Griffiths" at the front of the book and discovered that I had missed not one but two books in between (yay! a prolific writer!), so I had to backtrack. I put A Dying Fall back (since it's a seven-day book) so someone else could enjoy it in the meantime, and checked out The House at Sea's End and A Room Full of Bones.

I liked The House at Sea's End, but I must confess that I enjoyed it more for Ruth's bewilderment at new motherhood than I did for the mystery. It's not that the mystery--six dead bodies found roped together in a fissure revealed by an eroding beach cliff--isn't interesting, but for some reason I didn't find it as compelling as the other archaeological puzzles in her previous two books (The Crossing Places and The Janus Stone). But I don't think that's any reflection on the book--it's just that the adjustments Ruth, a determined loner if there ever was one, has to make to accommodate a child into her existence as a teacher, lecturer, archaeologist, and consultant to the police department were more interesting to me. I also found some of the red herrings too determinedly trailed along in front of the reader--a certain lack of subtlety.

On the other hand, I found A Room Full of Bones much more compelling as a mystery. There are so many story lines intertwining that it's hard to remember who knows what about whom and when, but it definitely keeps you reading. The coffin of a medieval Catholic bishop has been discovered, and Ruth Galloway has been invited to the "grand opening," only to discover the museum's curator lying dead next to the coffin. Then the owner of the museum, a British lord, dies too, muttering aloud about a great snake trying to devour him; since his great-grandfather was responsible for removing the skulls of Aboriginal ancestors from their native lands in Australia, and threatening letters have been found asking for their return, both of the deaths smell suspicious to DCI Nelson, who takes time away from his drug smuggling investigation to reconnect with Ruth over these mysterious events. Cathbad is, of course, in the middle of the mix, and Max makes a reappearance in Ruth's life as well.

And finally, I got back to A Dying Fall, in which Ruth's old university friend, Dan "the Man" Golding, reaches out to her about an exciting new archaeological find, only to tragically die in a fire before he can tell her about it. As soon as she decides to go to Lancashire to see if she can put together the pieces of the puzzle, though, Ruth starts receiving cryptic death threats. Enlisting Cathbad as escort and child-minder, she heads out with him and her daughter Kate for a "vacation" that coincides with a fishing expedition into Dan's research. The personal/professional saga of herself and DCI Harry Nelson continues in this one as well.

I like Elly Griffiths's books for a variety of reasons:
  1. I always learn something (especially since I know virtually nothing about archaeology);
  2. Her books are ultimately about relationships of all kinds, and I love how she traces the ins and outs of personal decisions and their effects;
  3. She knows how to write a good cliff-hanger. She never stops in the middle of something and says "to be continued," but she always leaves you with a statement about the inner thoughts of her main characters guaranteed to have you salivating over the release date of the next book!
Her website is a richness of information and photographs showing some scenes from her books. Maybe someday she will tour in America, and Aunt Agatha can persuade her to come see us here at BPL!

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