21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2012
The setting was the pull for this one for me; I grew up in East Anglia and have surprised myself lately by finding that I still have a soft spot for the area. The Saltmarsh featured in the novel is invented (as Griffiths clearly indicates in the Author's Note), but it's entirely plausible as a Norfolk place. It is clear that Griffiths knows the Norfolk coast well and she writes of it with affection, but without romanticising and minimising its bleakness.
If the setting was the initial attraction, Ruth Galloway's character was what kept me in it for the long haul. Unusual and rather awkward, she's a great creation. Her academic life and motivation ring true and her interaction with Harry Nelson, who doesn't really know what to make of her, is a great touch. Most of the novel is told from her point of view, although not in the first person, which means we can also sometimes get a glimpse of something that Ruth isn't privy to.
The plot is involving and well-constructed, with plenty of possible culprits and red herrings. The tension is ramped up when it becomes clear that Ruth herself is in danger, and the wildness of the setting really comes into its own at this point, adding further complications.
Overall, this was a most enjoyable read and I will definitely be reading the rest of the series. Using Ruth's archaeological expertise gives it a different angle from other crime series, and the bleak rural setting provides an additional edge. Harry Nelson is a complex character too, and I'm sure there's still a lot of character (and plot) development to come in further books, as we end with a cliffhanger in terms of Ruth's personal life. I'm glad to say that it seems this won't be one of those series where the key characters are 'back in their places' at the start of each book, and nothing really moves on.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
First Sentence: They wait for the tide and set out at first light.
Archaeologist Ruth Galloway is a single, overweight woman who lives with her two cats on the edge of the Saltmarsh. DCI Harry Nelson asks for her help when human bones are found on a nearby beach. Nelson is haunted by the case of Lucy Downey, a young girl who disappeared ten years ago. A second child now disappears. Nelson believes the two cases are linked.
It is always a treat to start a book by an author I'd not previously read and discover it is a very enjoyable book.
The opening is particularly effective and creates a strong sense of place. In fact, it is the evocative quality of Ms. Griffiths' descriptions that entranced me and held me fast into the story. Add to that fascinating historical, geological, archeological and forensic information that enhances the story, but never overwhelms or slows it down.
The characters are only slightly less effective. I loved Ruth. She is definitely a character with whom I can identify. It is so refreshing not to have a young, slim, gorgeous protagonist. She is smart, strong and independent. A slight criticism would be that the author focused more than needed on Ruth's weight and being single. There's a point where you say, "Okay, I've got it."
Detective Nelson, on the other hand, seemed rather anachronistic in his view toward women and I was rather amazed at some of the things he didn't know, particularly with a British education. The other characters felt contrived.
I did guess the villain fairly early on, but there were enough twists and red herrings that I wasn't completely certain. There is an incident with one of Ruth's cats I felt was predictable and not really necessary to the plot.
The story does have a bit of a Gothic feel, which I enjoyed, and some very good suspense. It kept me reading from page one straight through in one sitting. I was surprised by the very ending, but not particularly in a good way.
Still, taken all together, the positives far outweighed the negatives and I look forward to more books by Ms. Griffiths.
THE CROSSING PLACES (Trad Mys-Ruth Galloway-England-Cont) - G+
Griffiths, Elly - 1st in series
Houghton, Mufflin, Harcourt, 2009, ARC - ISBN: 978547339898
41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Ruth Galloway is in her late 30', has cats, is slightly overweight and orders loads of books from Amazon (what¡¯s not to love?). She is a forensic archaeologist at the University of Norfolk, specialising in bones, and is called out to the saltmarshes on the Norfolk Coast by Police Detective Harry Nrelson when a body is unearthed. The body is discovered to be that of a young girl from the iron age, but it brings to the surface the disappearance of a five year old girl, Lucy Downey, who has never been traced and whom Harry Nelson can¡¯t get out of his head. He then shows Ruth a series of letters he has been sent over the years with cryptic clues about Lucy¡¯s disappearance and asks Ruth to help him decipher them. In the midst of this, and almost 10 years to the day since Lucy vanished, a four year old girl is snatched from her back garden and Harry fears that the perpetrator has struck again.
What I loved most about this books is the setting and the characters. The saltmarshes on the north Norfolk coast sounded so bleak and wind swept that I longed to be there in Ruth¡¯s little stone cottage sipping coffee and reading books while rain hurled itself at the windows. I loved the image of the sand dunes and sea spray and the solitude. Ruth and Harry are wonderful leads too: Ruth is a woman after my own heart and Harry is a straight-talking northern bloke (and being a northerner myself I loved his tell-it-like-it-is attitude but also recognising his warm heart under his no nonsence exterior).
Reading this book made me want to do two things: 1) go for a long weekend on the north Norfolk coast ¨C which we are now doing in October and 2) want to rush out and buy the second in the series, The Janus Stone (which I have also now got and it is high on my pile!)
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I really hope this will be the first of many novels featuring Ruth Galloway and Harry Nelson. Both are likeably flawed and the relationship between them is intriguing. Wonderful descriptions of the Norfolk coastline.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The Crossing Places is a highly readable page-turning mystery with strong characters and a distinctive setting, so think Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins books, or Arnaldur Indridason's gloomy Icelandic Erlendur series.
The first crime novel by Elly Griffiths, The Crossing Places features Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist living in an isolated cottage on the flat, bleak, windblown Norfolk coast, and Harry Nelson, a gruff northern copper. Rather unusually, the story is told through a third person, present tense narrative, which I was convinced would irritate me a great deal - but in fact, I stopped noticing it by page four, so what do I know?
The initial set-up is fairly standard: a decade or so after a little girl has disappeared close to Ruth's marshland cottage, a second child is now missing. When human bones are found close to the site of a previous archaeological dig, Ruth is called in to establish whether the body has been recently buried or has lain preserved in the peat, and subsequently, has a pivotal role in solving the case. I have a hard time believing that Ruth would ever have been allowed access to some of the information or situations in which Nelson includes her, but I can happily overlook that: civilians being inexplicably involved in police murder investigations is a fairly standard device in crime fiction and I accept it here as I have in other books in this genre.
The real strength of The Crossing Places is not so much the mystery itself - although there was certainly plenty there to hold my interest too - but its characters and the setting. Ruth, single at 40 and a slightly overweight cat-owner, could easily have descended into cliché, but in fact, she's a realistic mix of confidence and insecurity and is easily interesting enough to be a worthy protagonist. Nelson, too, has plenty of flaws but Griffiths always makes his motives clear and he, too, is easy to like. There are plenty of supporting players, all of whom are well-observed, believable and sufficiently fleshed-out to play the roles required of them.
Saltmarsh, the novel's fictional location, is almost a character in its own right. Griffiths captures the flat, desolate coastal landscape, more hospitable to wading birds than people and peppered with ancient burial sites, with great skill. It's easy to believe, as Ruth's colleague Erik thinks the Iron Age people did, that this landscape, not quite land but not quite sea, has a strange life all of its own. This is really where the archaeological aspect of the novel comes in, although those concerned that the technical details might be a bit much for them have nothing to fear: Griffiths never gets carried away with procedure and what archaeology-speak there is in the book is fascinating.
The Crossing Places' weakness is, for me, that the solution to the mystery stretches plausibility just that little bit too much. As I can't point out why without revealing what that solution is, I won't go into detail, but it felt it raised more questions than it answered and I remain entirely sure that it absolutely just could not have happened - although I'd also like to have learned more about why it did, as I felt the killer's motive wasn't quite clear enough. Oh, and I also guessed who the murderer would be, which isn't ideal - but on the other hand, there were plenty of intriguing red herrings too, and being pretty sure that I already knew whodunnit never once made me want to stop turning the pages, as Ruth's expectations of, and trust in, those around her were chillingly undermined.
The book ends at a point that leaves it crying out for a sequel, so I'm pleased to see that there are in fact several more Ruth Galloway novels in the series. All I have to do now is decide whether to crack open the next one straight away, or wait until my holiday ...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 2013
If you like an atmospheric murder mystery that's more about the investigator than the crime then you'll probably like this. I really enjoyed it, but I didn't love it.
I'm always looking for a new crime series now that most of my old favourites like Wexford, Dalgliesh, Morse and Rebus are dead or retired (though Rebus has made a reappearance recently), so I was excited to come across this, the first of an ongoing series, and with a female protagonist, too.
I thought that Dr Ruth Galloway was the best thing about this book. Instead of a detective she's a forensic archaeologist, which makes an interesting change, and it's easy to identify with her as she worries about her cats and her parents, and complains about being single and overweight (although I could have done with fewer Bridget Jones-type references to the weight thing). Her relationship with her fellow investigator DCI Harry Nelson (another well-drawn and convincing character) is very credible, and it'll be interesting to see how it develops as the series progresses.
And Ms Griffiths uses a successful formula - make your detective's stories more memorable by giving them an interesting and very specific setting (Morse in Oxford, Rebus in Edinburgh, etc) - extremely well, her descriptions of the remote and haunted salt marshes of north Norfolk are very evocative.
So all that was good. But there were a couple of things I didn't like.
Firstly, the style: it's well written, avoiding the annoying too-clever-by-half bells and whistles that characterise the work of authors like Sophie Hannah, so I was surprised at her use of the present tense throughout. It's clumsy, jarring and pretentious, and phrases like " ... They are at the university now. Nelson screeches to a halt ... " always sound like audio description to me.
Then there was the story: it's hard to turn the hunt for missing children into something new - if you like detective stories then you've seen or read this sort of thing many times - and I could have done with a bit less of Ruth's angst and a bit more police procedure. And although the chase across the saltmarsh at the end is exciting, by then (having ruled out all the obvious red herrings) the revelation of the killer doesn't come as much of a surprise.
But it's a good start, and I'll definitely be looking out for the rest of this series.
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 27 March 2010
Dr Ruth Galloway lectures at the University of North Norfolk. Ruth lives alone in a remote cottage in a place called Saltmarsh, which is wild and overlooks the North Sea. Ruth is forty, overweight and hides herself under bulky clothes; she shares her home with her two cats Flint and Sparky.
When she is asked by Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson to look at some bones the police have uncovered in the Marsh she dates them from the Iron Age, but DCI Nelson was hoping they were the bones of a five-year -old girl called Lucy who went missing ten years previously. Although disappointed that the bones found are two thousand years old, DCI Nelson takes her into his confidence and shows her the letters he received at the time of the girl's disappearance. But the bones are of archeological interest and Ruth wastes no time in contacting her old friend Erik Anderssen who she first met at a dig ten years ago but who has returned to Norway. She had shared an enchanted summer on the Saltmarsh with Erik and his wife Madga, Peter, who she at on time though she was in love, and her friend Shona.
Then a second young girl goes missing and because of her expertise Ruth finds herself drawn into the mystery. Soon it becomes clear that she too is now a target of the unknown killer.
This is a very atmospheric book, I was reading it in summer yet I could still feel the wind the rain and the isolation of the marshes. There are many threads running through this tale, and slowly and skilfully they are pulled together to show a picture, but not the picture one expects.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 23 March 2010
As previous reviewers have stated, this is a simply written book with a simple to follow story line..BUT... I enjoyed it immensely. I normally read authors such as Jeffrey Deavers and Kathy Reichs so I'm used to reading about all the intricacies of forensics with twisting, turning plots. This was more of an "ITV drama" adaptation - I could almost imagine Caroline Quentin as Ruth and Philip Glenister as Nelson! I liked the characters, Ruth is very believable but as a previous reviewer said, too much is made of her HUGE(?) size 16 frame. Her relationship with Nelson is interesting(it improves in the second book)but some of the other characters are a little sketchy.
The story itself is hugely enjoyable and I read it all in one sitting as I wanted to see if I'd guessed whodunnit correctly. Elly describes the desolate Norfolk coastline perfectly, (reminding me of several wet holidays spent there), and creates an atmosphere of forboding really well. I've already read the next book in the series and am looking forward to number three!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist at Norfolk University when she is called in to help the police identify some bones. Although the skeleton is from the Iron Age, she becomes involved in the police case to find two missing girls, one from ten years ago. And Ruth, of course, finds that the murder is very close to home...
The start of this book is done really well and Ruth stands up as a genuinely quirky and original character with some hysterical inner monologue that had me laughing out loud: ("She has a morbid dread of... some invisible weight sensor setting off a shrill alarm. `Twelve and a half stone in car! Emergency!'"). And the chemistry between Ruth and the rather dour police inspector is also well done and moves in unexpected directions.
However, once the murder story gets going, the plot descends to a plethora of mystery clichés: so there are letters from the supposed murderer filled with quotations from the bible and Shakespeare (why are all psychopathic killers always well-read?); Ruth is pursued by creepy text messages and someone walking around her isolated cottage; everyone she's known for years could suddenly be a killer, and when she's supposed to be in a safe house, she's actually faffing around just making herself into a target. And to top it all, we have a final page chase through the boggy saltmarsh.
The plot, too, is full of holes: why didn't the police find the missing girl in the most obvious place possible after searching for her for ten years? Can someone who is mad really hide it from his closest friends for ten years and hold down a public career? How do Ruth's two unwanted visitors get into her house? Isn't two convenient drowning on the saltmarsh a little too much? And as for the killer's motive...
So after a strong start this collapses into a very conventional read. Personally I found the present tense narrative awkward and intrusive but despite all the problems this is enjoyable in a light-hearted way because of the great character of Ruth. So would I read another Griffiths book? Yes, but I'd borrow rather than buy.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 December 2011
Dr Ruth Galloway is an archeologist who is called in to assist the police in aging some bones that have been discovered. Very quickly she is drawn into the cases of 2 missing girls and finds herself assisting DCI Harry Nelson. The book balances the police procedure with the complexities of both Ruth and Nelson's private lives. This is an excellent debut novel and I am looking forward to reading the next offering in the series. My only slight criticism is that it is written in the present tense which I am not keen on.