The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths

>> Saturday, December 29, 2012

TITLE: The Crossing Places
AUTHOR: Elly Griffiths

PAGES: 303
PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Mystery
SERIES: 1st in the Dr. Ruth Galloway series

When she’s not digging up bones or other ancient objects, quirky, tart-tongued archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives happily alone in a remote area called Saltmarsh near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants - not quite earth, not quite sea.

When a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach nearby, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls Galloway for help. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to ritual and sacrifice.

The bones actually turn out to be two thousand years old, but Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers. Then another child goes missing and the hunt is on to find her. As the letter writer moves closer and the windswept Norfolk landscape exerts its power, Ruth finds herself in completely new territory – and in serious danger.
The Crossing Places introduces us to forensic archaeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway. Ruth is a lecturer at the University of North Norfolk, and as an expert on bones, she's asked to help the police when some are discovered in the nearby salt marshes.

The policeman in need of her help is DCI Harry Nelson, who thinks the bones might belong to a little girl who disappeared about 10 years earlier. Nelson is still haunted by that case, and half-hopes, half-fears he'll be able to give the girl's parents some closure by confirming that she is dead.

The bones Ruth examines turn out to be a couple of thousand years too old to be of any use to him, but her involvement in the case doesn't end there. Someone has been taunting Nelson with letters about the case for the past 10 years, letters full of all sorts of references, some of them archaeological, and with which Ruth is able to help. And then another little girl goes missing.

It's an interesting mystery, with very well-done characters. Ruth, especially, appealed to me. She's at a stage in her life where people insist on pitying her for being single. Everyone seems to think that because she's 40, overweight, and lives alone with her 2 cats, Ruth must be this miserable, pityful person. Well, she isn't. She's a wonderfully independent character, and though yes, she has her moments of self-pity herself, her life is one she has chosen. Her cats are not children substitutes, and she's not alone out of lack of choices.

I wasn't as convinced about her relationship with Harry Nelson, though. Nelson is, as Griffiths reminds us over and over, an "unreconstructed Northerner". He can be quite nice and considerate, especially with Ruth, but I got a bit of a feel that the author was contrasting his kind of almost brutish masculinity with what she calls "reedy academics", and finding the latter wanting. Of course, all the academics in this book are on the amoral side, with unattractive personalities, and therefore look a little bit like straw men to me.

Harry Nelson is also married. Well, pretty much all relationships we hear about in this book involve someone who's already married. Adulterous relationships are not something I completely refuse to read. I'm ok if they're handled sensitively, but this felt pretty sordid.

I think I'm still interested in these characters, though, so I might actually read the second book. It seems to be set in the same area, which is described very evocatively, and there's a certain development in Ruth's personal life right at the end of the book which has the potential for much drama. Might be good, might be awful, but I'm kind of convincing myself to find out.

Oh, before I forget, a word of warning: this is not one to read if you're disturbed by bad things happening to animals. There's a pet who meets a sticky end here, and it was a very sad moment.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: It was this version, read by Jane McDowell. I liked her voice, it sounded very "Ruth" to me. She wasn't great at accents though. The accent she did for Harry Nelson didn't really sound like someone from Blackpool, it sounded much more like someone from the Northeast to me, but that's a relatively minor issue. The "Norwegian" one for Erik, though! Just completely off.


Darlynne,  4 January 2013 at 04:35  

How did I miss this review?

I've read four books now in the series and while I enjoy them, they're fairly predictable in the end: Ruth gets into trouble and rescues herself or is rescued. It's unrealistic in the same way Kate Scarpetta being stalked by killers is unrealistic (the real danger in being chief medical examiner is political).

The archaeological aspect is interesting and I enjoy Ruth's affinity for the area in which she lives. The biggest problem I have is the same I have with all crime novels featuring amateur sleuths or those who stumble into crimes because of their expertise: it's just not going to happen.

The relationships in this book are complicated, which I suppose makes them realistic, but I am interested enough in how Griffiths is going to make it all work to keep reading.

Rosario 4 January 2013 at 07:10  

True, that can be an issue, how to get them involved in a way that feels natural. I guess Ruth's work can get her tangentially involved in all sorts of cases, but any more involvement than that could be iffy. Even in this one, I felt Griffiths was skirting the line.

I think I'm still interested enough to keep reading, as well, but I'll give it a bit of time before starting the next one!

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