Review 1639: The Ghost Fields

Detective Harry Nelson calls forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway when a bulldozer at a housing development digs up an American World War II airplane. In the plane is a dead man. Ruth is fairly sure the body was moved there, because its state indicates it was buried in different soil. Oh, and the man was shot in the head.

The American Air Force identifies the body through dental records as Fred Blackstock. The problem with that is that Fred was reported missing from a flight over the channel, in a different plane.

The investigative team finds that Fred’s brother George is still alive, although slightly dotty. His other brother, Lewis, returned from a Japanese prison camp with PTSD and eventually disappeared and is presumed dead. George lives in a desolate family mansion with his son George and George’s wife Sally. Their grown children are Chaz, a pig farmer, and Cass, an actress.

Ruth hears that her friend Frank, a TV historian, will be returning to the U. K. to film a show about Fred. Her feelings are mixed because they haven’t been in touch for a while.

A memorial service for Fred brings his daughter Nell and her family from the United States. During the reception, Ruth finds a likely disturbed area with the right soil in the family pet cemetery and believes it may be Fred’s original burial place. Ruth and another guest also spot a mysterious stranger on the grounds of the house.

I had some inklings about some of the threads of this mystery but ultimately did not guess the truth. It remains another perplexing mystery and thriller by Griffiths and satisfactorily advances the course of Ruth’s private life. My only fear about the series is that Griffiths seems to be advancing it at about two years in the characters’ lives per year in real life, which could result in a premature end of the series because of Ruth’s old age.

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Review 1619: The Outcast Dead

Elly Griffiths has always been good with characterization, but her mysteries are getting harder to solve, too. So, all is good with the series so far.

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is working on a TV series after her discovery during the excavation of castle grounds of a skeleton that may belong to “Mother Hook,” a Victorian childminder who was famously executed for murdering the children in her care. The show’s historian, Frank Barker, believes, however, that Jemima Green may have actually been innocent.

For Inspector Nelson’s part, he and his team are investigating the death of Liz Donaldson’s baby son. Her two other sons died as babies, but the deaths were found to be from natural causes. Something feels off about this one, though, and the forensics team finds indications of smothering.

The Donaldson case isn’t going very well when the baby of another couple disappears. This time, the police find a note saying that the baby is with the Childminder. Then another child disappears.

This time, I figured this one out about the time that one of the detectives did. Griffiths’ novels are always atmospheric and entertaining, and I continue to be interested in the characters.

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Review 1597: A Dying Fall

One day after forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway hears of the death in a fire of an old school friend, Dan Golding, she receives a letter from him asking her to come look at some bones he’s found. He also expresses fear but does not say what he’s afraid of.

Ruth asks DCI Harry Nelson if he would find out whether there was anything suspicious about Dan’s death. He finds that Dan was murdered, flammable material stuffed through his letterbox and his front door locked on the outside.

Ruth then receives a call from Dan’s department head, Clayton Henry, asking her to look at the bones. The university is near Blackpool, and Ruth is embarrassed to learn that Harry is going there for a vacation with his family, but she decides to go anyway. She immediately begins receiving threatening texts.

When Ruth arrives at the university with her daughter Kate and friend Cathbad, she soon learns that Dan thought he found the bones of King Arthur in the ruins of a Roman town. The tomb is certainly convincing, but when Ruth sees the bones, she realizes they’ve been switched. So, where are the original bones and what’s going on?

This jaunt out of Norfolk is atmospheric, and the idea for the mystery is clever and original. I guessed the identity of the murderer but only because the person seemed the least likely suspect. It looks like there will be some shifting around of recurring characters, too, which happens in real life but seldom in mystery series and should be refreshing. As usual, I enjoyed this mystery.

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Review 1579: A Room Full of Bones

Dr. Ruth Galloway is asked to attend the opening of a coffin that was found in the remains of a medieval church. It is marked as if it is the coffin of St. Augustine Smith, but the saint was supposedly buried in the cathedral. However, that coffin was found to be empty.

When Ruth shows up for the ceremony at the little museum belonging to Lord Smith, she at first thinks no one is there. Then she finds the body of the curator, Neil Topham, lying next to the coffin.

There are several plots in this novel, but Ruth isn’t as directly involved in them as in previous books. There is the mystery of who killed the curator. Then, an Australian indigenous man named Bob Woonunga rents the house next to Ruth’s while he attempts to get Lord Danford Smith to return some aboriginal skulls. Later, Lord Smith mysteriously dies after a short fever and hallucinations. While the police investigate these deaths, they are also trying to find the source of some high-quality drugs in the area.

Ruth herself has been keeping away from DCI Harry Nelson, the father of her daughter, since his wife Michelle figured out the situation. She runs into Max, an archaeologist who was interested in her when she was pregnant, and begins a tentative relationship.

This mystery was much more difficult to guess because of its many plot threads. Actually, it wasn’t so much a mystery as a thriller, with the police in danger instead of Ruth. Still, I remain interested in these characters and happy to read another in the series.

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Review 1571: The Stranger Diaries

Here’s a final book for RIPXV!

I have been following Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway mysteries, which I enjoy, but Galloway’s homage to the gothic novel, The Stranger Diaries, is something else again. I thought it was a stand-alone, but Goodreads has it marked as Harbinder Kaur #1, so perhaps there will be more.

Clare Cassidy is a schoolteacher who is writing a book about R. M. Holland, a Victorian gothic writer whose home is now occupied by Clare’s school. He was also the author of a horror story called “The Stranger.”

When she arrives at school, Clare is horrified to discover that her friend Ella was murdered in her home. Later, when Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur comes to interview her, Clare learns that a piece of paper with “Hell is empty” was found with the body. Although Clare tells the police that the quote is from The Tempest, she does not say that it is also used in “The Stranger.” Another thing that Clare doesn’t tell police is that Ella had a one-night stand with Rick Lewis, their married department head.

Later, when Clare goes to check her diary to see what she wrote about Ella and Rick, she finds that someone has written a message in her diary. When the handwriting is compared to that of the note by the body, it is the same.

This tribute to gothic literature is atmospheric and truly scary at times. I thought it was terrific.

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Review 1535: The House at Sea’s End

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is called in by DCI Harry Nelson when a group of archaeologists studying a Norfolk cliff find a collapsed cleft containing bones. There are six bodies, their hands bound. Ruth thinks they are recent, within the last hundred years, and all men.

Ruth’s university determines that the men were German, and Harry’s team begins concentrating on a time during World War II when the Home Guard of the village, Broughton Sea’s End, was preparing for a German invasion. The Home Guard men were led by Buster Hastings, father of the current owner of Sea’s End House, near where the body was found.

In the meantime, Ruth is struggling with the balance between her work, at the university and for the police, and her baby daughter, Kate. She is also concerned because Michelle, Harry’s wife, has been trying to befriend her, unaware that Kate is the result of a harrowing night during Ruth’s first case with Harry.

Aside from one ridiculously easy clue, I found this mystery much harder to guess than the first two. I continue to be interested in the characters and the setting, although it looks like we may be in for major melodrama in the next book. I like the concept of this series, which is inspired by the profession of Griffith’s husband.

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Review 1528: The Janus Stone

In the second Ruth Galloway mystery, Ruth is called to a dig at a site of a mansion being converted to luxury flats, because bones are discovered under a doorway. The bones are a child’s, and Ruth is inclined to believe that the grave is more recent than otherwise.

DCI Harry Nelson begins looking at the building’s past as a children’s home. During that time, a teenage boy and his five-year-old sister disappeared. But the teeth put the death a little earlier, when the original family resided there.

This case hits Ruth a little more personally because she is pregnant. The child is Harry’s, the result of an emotional night during the last case, but Harry is married. Then someone begins leaving unpleasant surprises for Ruth.

Like with the first book, I easily guessed who the culprit was, in fact, almost as soon as the character appeared. It is hard for me to tell whether this would be obvious to most readers. I am interested in the characters, though, so I enjoyed the novel and look forward to reading more of the series.

I do want to say something about my Quercus paperback edition, which was not impressive. About halfway through the book, I came across a sticker that was printed over by the text of the book. Later, a half page cut zigzag fell out of the book. When I turned to that page, I found that half of the text was on the zigzag page and half was on the page fastened into the book, which was whole, leaving a zigzagged half-blank page. If the loose half page had fallen out of the book before I got it, I would not have been able to read that page.

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Review 1411: The Crossing Places

Even though I often tire of series fiction, I still enjoy finding a promising series, and Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series is off to a good start. I selected this mystery to have a suitable review near Halloween and also for Readers Imbibing Peril.

Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist who lives by the Saltmarsh near Norfolk and teaches at the nearby university. Detective Inspector Harry Nelson asks her to help him with some bones that were found on a beach near where she participated in a dig five years ago. Harry Nelson was involved in the case of the disappearance of five-year-old Lucy Downey several years ago and fears they are her bones, but Ruth finds they are from the Iron Age.

A few months later, another little girl disappears from the area. Nelson begins consulting Ruth about the case, showing her the letters he received during the first case. Now, new letters are arriving.

Around this time, friends from the dig five years ago begin to resurface. Ruth’s professor Erik travels in from Norway, and her old boyfriend, Peter, reappears.

This novel is very atmospheric, using the bleak Saltmarsh effectively as a setting. The characters also are colorful yet believable. Although I guessed the identity of the criminal fairly early, Griffiths threw in some interesting red herrings. I’ll gladly read another Ruth Galloway book.

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