Elly Griffiths: The Crossing Places (2009) Ruth Galloway 1

The Crossing Places

Elly Griffiths’ The Crossing Places is the first novel in her Ruth Galloway series. Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist, who lives and works in Norfolk. Ever since she participated in a dig ten years ago, she’s loved the marshes and is, since then, renting a cottage that overlooks an empty, wild landscape, and the North Sea.

This is a novel with a leisurely pace and Elly Griffiths takes a lot of time to introduce Ruth Galloway. I liked her right away. She’s a single woman, a bit on the clumsy side, and not exactly slim or very attractive. But that doesn’t make her a beggar when it comes to men. She doesn’t need anyone to feel whole and rather lives alone than in the wrong company. This was one of many character traits that made me like her instantly. And of course she’s an expert in her field.

The second main character in the series, DCI Harry Nelson, is likable in a gruff kind of way. The two complement each other rather nicely.

They first meet when human bones are discovered on the marshes and Nelson asks Ruth to identify them. Ten years ago, a little girl went missing. She was never found, but Nelson never gave up hope that they still might find her one day. Naturally, he assumes that these are her bones, but Ruth tells him they are over two thousand years old.

Shortly after this another small girl goes missing and Ruth is threatened. It looks as if she’s somehow roused the murderer and got in his way.

If, like me, you love your crime novels with a strong sense of place, then Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series is for you. It’s one of those, in which the setting is a character in its own right. The saltmarshes, the weather, the loneliness of the place, and the fauna, are all intricate parts of this book. But that’s not all this atmospheric book has to offer. Ruth is a great character and I’m curious to see how she will develop. Since she’s a forensic archaeologist, we learn a few things about archaeology, which I found interesting, although the way we learn about it, is a tad clumsy at times. But that’s really my only reservation.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s not edge-of-your-seat gripping and, in spite of the many suspects, I thought it was pretty clear who was the bad guy, but that didn’t diminish the story one bit.

I have to admit that I’m partial to Elly Griffith’s choice of setting. I’ve been in Norfolk and loved it and the way she captures it is great.

I discovered the novel thanks to a review on Crimeworm. If you love crime and mystery it’s worth checking out her blog. You’ll discover some great books.

24 thoughts on “Elly Griffiths: The Crossing Places (2009) Ruth Galloway 1

  1. You raise good points about atmosphere and setting. For certain kinds of stories, these things can make for such a satisfying reading experience.

    Indeed as soon as I read salt marshes in your commentary I thought how good of a setting such a landscape would be for a story.

    By the way, we have a lot of salt marshes near where I live. People think that I am crazy, but I too love that landscape.

    • Not all of Norfolk is that wild. They even have lavender fields, but along the coast it’s quite forlorn. I never think of America as having marshes. I find this kind of landscape soothing.

  2. First I’ve heard of this so will look out for it. To be honest I didn’t know there was such a science as forensic archaeology so finding out about that would be a bonus! I think you’re right about books where the setting is a character in itself – it always adds to the enjoyment for me! Norfolk is a county I don’t know well but coincidentally I’ve a job interview there next week – if successful if not contemplated relocating from London but maybe I should!

    • I was so taken with Norfolk when we visited. I don’t know if I would exchange London for Norfolk but it’s certainly one of the loveliest regions in the UK. Not that I know all of them, but I know many.
      Forensic archeology is a bit like forensic anthropology. It was interesting to read about that too.
      I also liked that while it’s not a cozy, it’s not too graphic. Good luck with your interview.

  3. I’m completely with you when it comes to novels having a strong sense of place, it always adds to the atmosphere and enjoyment. There’s a sense of authenticity too…as if the story feels grounded in a kind of reality even though we know it’s a work of fiction. Norfolk sounds like a great setting for this series.

  4. Thanks so much for the mention, Caroline, I’m honoured! I’ve got the second in the series (The Janus Stone) and I’m really looking forward to seeing how Ruth’s character develops, as well as her work with Harry. I really liked your comment about her relationships with men – she’s actually an excellent role model! And you’re right about the strong sense of place – I wanted to book a holiday to Norfolk after reading this – it’s a great advert for the place!

    • You’re welcome. I wouldn’t have found the series without your post. She’s a great role model. She’s so matter of fact about herself and free of any neediness. I really liked that.
      It put me in the mood to re-visit Norfolk. It’s such an atmospheric county.

  5. I really enjoyed this first book as well. I have a feeling the stories get even better over time and I have been meaning to pick up the second book now for ages–I have it on my reading pile. I also recently bought her newest book The Zigzag Girl which is set during WWII and sounded really good–though (no surprise here…) haven’t manage to get to it yet either–as soon as my class finishes I hope to have more reading time… I also love mysteries with strong atmosphere and sense of place. Did you see Sharon Bolton has a new standalone coming out?

    • I can’t remmeber your review of this. I’m sorry. Or maybe it was long ago?
      It’s a pretty great start to a series. I had no idea. As much as I like Sharon Bolton’s series, I even liked her standalones better.

      • It was quite a while since I read this one, so you could easily have missed it–or maybe you found my blog after I wrote about it–so no worries there! 🙂 I think I like SJ Bolton’s standalones just a bit better, too, though I do like Lacey–she is a great character. Maybe it is time to pick up one of her books again–I think I am going to gorge myself on mysteries and crime novels this summer!

  6. I’ve wondered about reading Elly Griffiths for ages – I’ve always been afraid that her prose is a bit too pedestrian (I really don’t mind ‘easy reading’, but some books in the present tense can be a bit clunky and I really don’t like those inside-the-head-of-the-murderer-victim bits in italics). But I love a book with good atmosphere, so maybe I will give her a go.

    • She’s very readable – I wouldn’t call it pedwstrian as such but the writing is completely in the background. I just loved the atmosphere. You might like it but maybe not love it. I’d be curious to know what you think though.

  7. Wonderful review, Caroline. Ruth Galloway does look like a fascinating character and it is tempting to read this novel for her alone. The setting also sounds wonderful from your description. I have realized these days that sometimes the mystery is not that important, but the characters, their relationships, the dialogue and the prose and the setting all add magic to the story. So nice to know that though we are able to predict who the bad guy is, the story is still enjoyable.

    • Thanks, Vishy. I’m like you, I don’t really read for the mystery as such. I just love the way how some crime authors introduce their series characters. All their mundane activities. And I like a loner. I really ejoyed this. The setting is so well done.

  8. It sounds like a nice new series.

    I have a question about that paragraph “She’s a single woman, a bit on the clumsy side, and not exactly slim or very attractive. But that doesn’t make her a beggar when it comes to men. She doesn’t need anyone to feel whole and rather lives alone than in the wrong company. This was one of many character traits that made me like her instantly. And of course she’s an expert in her field.”
    Wow, doesn’t she sound like a perfect likeable modern woman?
    Do you think Ruth was designed to please the female readership since I’ve heard women read more than men and read a lot of crime fiction?

    • I enjoyed it. The place is so well described.
      I thought she was a great role model and maybe it was done to please female readers. I’m not sure. Of course it’s possible. It felt as if Elly Griffiths was very conscious about how she portrayed Ruth. The negative descrptions are all her own. The men fancy her anyway – exactly because she’s so much herself.

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