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This review is from: The Outcast Dead: A Ruth Galloway Investigation (Ruth Galloway series Book 6) (Kindle Edition)
When archaeologist Ruth Galloway discovers what she believes to be the body of a long-dead murderess, her find becomes the subject of a TV documentary on Women Who Kill. Meantime in the present day, a young child has died and DCI Harry Nelson suspects he may have been murdered by his mother. Still haunted by the memory of the death of Scarlet Henderson (The Crossing Places), Nelson is struggling to deal with this case, especially since there is very little evidence to prove how little David died. And when another child is abducted, the tension really starts to mount...
After the slight disappointment I felt with Elly Griffiths' last outing, A Dying Fall, I thought the Ruth Galloway series might have run its course. But I'm delighted to say that this one is right back up to the standard of the earlier books in the series - a thoroughly enjoyable and well written novel with very strong characterisation throughout. Ruth has always been a great character but had got a bit bogged down in mild misery and angst, especially about her weight. Here, though, her senses of both humour and proportion seem to have re-asserted themselves and she's enjoying life. Her previous boyfriend Max has disappeared from the scene, with no tears of regret from this reader; and a new romance might be on the cards with Frank, an American historian presenting the documentary - who apparently looks more like George Clooney than any other man in Norfolk! Kate is now a talking toddler, and Griffiths writes very realistically about the pressures of being a working single mother without laying it on too thick.
I still have a couple of grumbles about the series. Firstly, there's the occasional slightly mystical element introduced which doesn't work for me, but that's a matter of personal preference rather than a criticism, and I was glad to see that Cathbad the druid still gets involved, even though he's now living in Lancashire. My second grumble is more serious, and that's that Griffiths continues to use the clunky and stilted present tense. To some degree, I forgive her - she was one of the first to start this annoying trend so at least she can't be accused of jumping on the bandwagon; but oh, how I wish she and all the other authors who overuse this artificial technique would jump off it now. It's been done - it's not original any more.
The plot works well, though Griffiths has of course trodden the ground of missing and dead children before. Through the archaeological strand, we find out about Mother Hook, a (fictional) Victorian baby-farmer - hanged for the murder of a child in her care. Frank, though, thinks she has been the subject of an injustice and is looking for Ruth to help find archaeological evidence that will back up his belief. Ruth's involvement in the present-day investigation relies too much on coincidence, but that's always going to be a problem when the main protagonist is not a member of the police, and on the whole Griffiths has made it work much more convincingly this time around. The solution, though, comes out of nowhere - this could not be called a fairplay novel - but it still works and provides a satisfying ending.
Mini-grumbles aside, this is a hugely enjoyable read and it's great to see both Griffiths and Ruth back on top form, putting this series firmly back onto my list of must-reads. Highly recommended.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Quercus.