Review 1683: The Chalk Pit

Forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway is asked to look at some human bones that were discovered in old chalk mining tunnels below Norwich. Although at first glance she believes they may be medieval, they also show signs of having been boiled. Tests show them to be more modern, perhaps 10 years old or less.

Around the same time, a homeless man named Eddie visits DCI Harry Nelson because he is worried about his friend Babs, who has not been around for two weeks. As the team asks around for Babs, Judy talks to another homeless man named Bilbo, who says Babs may have gone underground. Within a day Eddie is found stabbed to death in front of the police station and Bilbo has disappeared.

The team’s attention is taken away from these events by the disappearance of Sam Foster-Jones, a suburban housewife who vanished from her home after someone came to the door, leaving her four small children alone. Nelson has a feeling that this disappearance is related to that of Babs and the deaths of Eddie and Bilbo.

This series, always entertaining, has improved steadily, especially in regard to the difficulty of guessing the solution. Ruth remains a likable character, and I still enjoy all the secondary characters in the series.

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Review 1663: The Woman in Blue

Elly Griffiths is getting much better at fooling me than she was in the first few Ruth Galloway books, so that is all to the good.

Ruth’s friend Cathbad is house- and cat-sitting in Walsingham when the cat gets out one night and runs into the cemetery. There, Cathbad sees a young blond woman wearing a blue cloak. He is about to offer help when the cat trips him up and the woman disappears. The next morning she is found strangled.

That day Ruth has an appointment to meet Hilary, an old school friend, for lunch in Walsingham. She is astonished to find that her friend has become a priest. Hilary shows her some threatening letters she’s received, apparently because she’s a female priest.

When Ruth gives DCI Nelson the letters, he seems inclined to think they might be connected to the murder. A few nights later, the women priests, who are attending a conference, go out to dinner, a dinner to which Ruth is invited. Afterwards, one of them is found strangled.

Although Ruth uncovers a clue, she is not directly involved in the solution of the murders. That’s okay, though, because Griffiths has created an ensemble cast of strong characters. If Ruth isn’t out there sleuthing in every book, Griffiths gets around the problem of the unlikelihood of an amateur sleuth being involved in so many murders. The Ruth Galloway series continues to be interesting and engaging.

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Review 1659: The Less Dead

When Margo gets in touch with her birth family, her Aunt Nikki, Nikki tells Margo that her mother, Susan, was a prostitute and a junkie who was murdered in an alley at 19. Then she tells Margo she knows who did it and tries to get her to help find evidence. She is asking Margo to break the law and endanger her position as a medical doctor. Margo is horrified by the story and the request and gets away as fast as she can. What she doesn’t know is that meeting Nikki has brought her to the attention of Susan’s murderer. Soon, she has received a threatening letter like the ones Nikki has been getting.

Although set in the gritty neighborhoods of Glasgow like most of Mina’s fiction, The Less Dead is less grim than her earlier work, populated by likable characters such as Margo’s ex-boyfriend Joe and her bestie Lilah, as well as, eventually, Nikki and her friends. It is definitely creepy, though, and a satisfying thriller. Mina always knows how to spin a tale.

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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 1629: The Guest List

A wild Irish island seems the perfect place for the wedding of Jules and Will. The only building on it is an old mansion that has been fabulously restored and is just big enough for the wedding party and the hosts, Aoife and Freddie. The high-society guests will be boated in the day of the wedding.

The bride and groom seem to be a golden couple. They are both physically attractive, and Jules runs a fashion magazine while Will is a rising star in television. However, someone in the wedding party is a sociopath who has ruined many lives, and future victims are on the guest list.

The novel begins in a tumultuous storm during the wedding reception when a waitress thinks she sees a body outside. From there it flashes back to the points of view of several characters beginning the day before the wedding. And the plot thickens.

I recently read Foley’s The Hunting Party and thought it was excellent. So, I was happy to read The Guest List. At first, though, it seemed awfully familiar—a remote island instead of a remote forest, the same kind of upper crusty characters. However, I was soon sucked in, because Foley is great with a suspenseful plot.

I did have one caveat. If there are several narrators in a book, they should not only have different concerns, which these characters do, but they should sound like different people. I don’t think Foley is quite so successful at that.

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Review 1605: The Hunting Party

Before I start my review, just a little note to let you know I am so far ahead on my reviews (lots of reading going on and not much else) that for a while, at least, I am returning to posting four times a week. I picked now to do it since it’s right after my anniversary post. The new posting day will be Friday, so that you can expect posts on this blog on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays for at least the next few months.

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The setup of The Hunting Party felt an awful lot like Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood—a group of old friends getting together in a modern open-plan house out in the middle of nowhere, mayhem to follow. However, I found this book to be much more suspenseful.

For one thing, almost immediately upon the novel’s opening, a death is reported by Heather, an employee of the lodge. But we don’t know who has been killed or under what circumstances. Then the novel alternates in time—in the present with Heather’s point of view and in the past with that of the others.

I won’t enumerate all the guests, because there are nine, and some of them also seem oddly familiar if you’ve read Ware’s novel. There’s Miranda, beautiful but accustomed to getting her own way and horribly bitchy at times, and her husband Julien, who has some secrets. Emma is Miranda’s imitator and admirer, and her boyfriend Mark has a thing for Miranda. Katie, Miranda’s best friend, has been remote of late, to Miranda’s resentment. Aside from several other members of this party, there are an Icelandic couple, described as feral. Oh, and in case that’s not enough suspects, the gamekeeper, Doug, has periods of memory lapse and a violent past, and there is the Highland Ripper out there somewhere.

In any case, this novel pretty much nails you to your seat as it proceeds at a rip-roaring pace. Lots of nasty characters, lots of fun to read.

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Review 1602: Friday on My Mind

Because I read the Frieda Klein mystery that comes after this one first, I was aware of a plot point in Friday on My Mind, but writing about it is not really a spoiler, because it happens in the first few pages. That point is that Sandy, Frieda’s ex-lover, is found dead in the Thames with his throat cut and Frieda’s hospital bracelet on his wrist.

Frieda had broken up with him several months ago, but recently he had been trying to contact her. Friends said he was in a state of agitation. He had come to her office with her belongings and shouted at her when he wasn’t allowed in. Frieda is the police’s suspect, and when they find Sandy’s wallet in her home, they plan to arrest her.

Frieda thinks her nemesis, Dean Reeve, has killed Sandy, as he’s killed other of her enemies, and is framing her. She feels that the police will not investigate further, so she flees, determined to find the murderer herself.

As usual, this is a complex mystery with interesting characters. It also has a gripping ending, and I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I liked Sandy, and I was bothered by how unlike himself he was behaving after the breakup, as well as by his murder.

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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 1570: The Body Lies

Here’s another book for RIPXV!

The Body Lies opens with the body of a woman lying in the cold. We don’t have any context for this scene for some time during the novel.

The unnamed narrator is pregnant when she is attacked by a complete stranger in the street. Three years later, when she is ready to return to work after a break for child care, she is still afraid, so she looks for a job outside the city. On the basis of her published novel, she is offered a job at a university in the north. Her husband Mark says he can’t leave his job immediately, so he comes to visit as often as he can.

The narrator’s inexperience results in her getting more and more work piled on her by her department head. But more worrisome is the contentious tone between some of the members of her MA creative writing class. In particular, Nicholas Palmer, who seems talented, takes an aggressive attitude toward Steven Haygarth, who opens his crime novel with a nude girl’s dead body.

The narrator finds herself unwittingly getting involved with Nicholas in a way she doesn’t want to be. Nicholas says he’s trying an experiment with fiction never tried before. She has no idea how it will affect her.

At first, I was a little impatient with the student compositions, especially Nicholas’s, even though I knew they would be important to the plot. However, this novel slowly becomes very suspenseful. I have liked all of Jo Baker’s books, and they’ve all been different from each other.

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