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.

Jenn Ashworth: Cold Light (2011) Crime and Social Realism

An unsettling, darkly humorous tale of teenage girls in a predatory adult world, and a cocktail of lies, jealousy and unworldliness that leads to tragedy.

I have been looking forward to Jenn Ashworth’s new novel since I read A Kind of Intimacy at the beginning of the year (here’s the review). I had a bit of a problem not comparing the two books but once I let go of that I really liked this novel, it’s disturbing and chilling and you only find out at the very end what really happened.

Cold Light is a very appropriate title for this novel, although – as will be explained towards the end – it refers to bioluminescence.  It is a cold world in which today’s girls move and a predatory one. But is this really all that new? There is a lot that reminded me of my own coming of age. Not for anything in the world would I want to be 14 again. The competitions, the jealousy, the insecurity and the constant fighting off of boys or hoping to be noticed by them – depending on where on the good-looking scale you were positioned – was by far too upsetting. It’s all very horrible and can damage you for life. But there are other things young girls have to cope with nowadays that were not even thinkable 10-20 years ago. And today’s Britain (I’m just finishing Kat Banyard’s book The Equality Illusion and it echoes Cold Light) seems to be even worse than many other places.

Chloe is dead. Chloe will be 14 forever, 14, pretty and romantic. Since her presumed suicide 10 years ago she has become something like a cult figure. A symbol for young love and innocence. Now, ten years later, her former best friend Laura sits in front of her TV in a shabby little apartment and watches the groundbreaking ceremony for her memorial. The ceremony comes to an abrupt and macabre end when human bones are found in the damp soil. Laura nows whose bones they are and from this very first scene in the novel we know that some things must have gone seriously wrong ten years ago and we also know that there is a lot to be found out about Chloe, her ex-boyfriend who died with her and everyone else who was involved.

Laura will be watching TV all night, later joined by Emma with whom she is still in contact. They will be smoking and drinking until the early morning. Through flash backs and parts of their discussion the truth is slowly revealed. It’s the story of three friends who are jealous of one another, an older boyfriend who seems weird, a town in a state of alarm as a flasher who is getting more and more violent is chasing young girls. The three girls are only 14 yet they smoke, drink and have sex. We also hear a lot about innocent Chloe, how she exploited the obsessive best friend feelings of the others, how narcissistic and bullying she was, her delinquency and how she always got away with everything just because she was so pretty. Reading the story from Laura’s point of view we discover a lot about her family, the sadness of her childhood, about her father who seems to suffer from some kind of mental illness, her controlling mother and her obsession with Chloe that turns her into a stalker.

It’s an excellent book, disturbing and accurate and reminded me a great deal of the movie Fish Tank. I also thought of Harry Brown. Both movies paint a bleak picture of British youth. The first one also focusing on young girls being as well prey, victims and perpetrators.

Thanks again to Hodder and Stoughton who send me a review copy.

Araminta Hall: everything and nothing (2011) Social Realism and Psychological Suspense

Ruth and Christian are – just – holding their marriage together, after Christian’s disastrous affair a year ago. But chaos beckons, and when the family are suddenly left without any childcare, Agatha comes into their lives to solve all their problems. But Agatha is not as perfect as she seems and her love for the children masks a deeper secret.

I read a review of this book on Lizzy’s Literary Life and something told me I might like it. And I did. It was one of those super fast reads, a book that I could hardly put down. Really riveting. The only complaint I have is that this is labelled as a psychological thriller. Although there is a part of it reminiscent of Ruth Rendell, it is like a background story and not really very gripping. At least not for me. Still I consider this to be a real page-turner for the simple reason that it captures chaotic family life in so much detail and explores some of the questions and problems parents who work full-time would face. I often enjoy descriptions of domestic life although I don’t live anything that is even remotely comparable.

Ruth and Christian both not only work full-time but overtime many days of the week. They both have careers that seem to absorb all of their energy and when they come home in the evening they face total chaos. The place is dirty, sticky and disorderly, the little girl is screaming constantly and throws one temper tantrum after the other. The little boy, at three, still doesn’t eat properly and drinks from a bottle. The nights are nightmares too. Ruth and Christian fight and when they finally go to bed, the girl starts to scream again. She always wakes at midnight and never goes back to sleep.

At the beginning of the novel Ruth knows she isn’t capable of going on like this. She needs a new nanny. And in comes Agatha. We know from the start that something is wrong with her. She lives in daydreams and lies to her employers and to herself constantly. Something bad has happened in her past, a trauma that she cannot overcome and tries to repress with her imagination.

Family life improves considerably after she has started working for Ruth and Christian. She is super organized and makes Ruth feel deficient. To make things worse, Christian accidentally meets the woman he has had an affair with and starts seeing her for drinks.

Something bad, coming from Agatha, is lurking in the background and we know things will go very awry. But as said, this is completely toned down. I was fascinated by Ruth. Christian was not particularly interesting. Just one of those guys who thinks he has the right to have an affair when his wife is pregnant for the second time and is not that much into him during that time.  Ruth shows every sign of a severe depression and what I found interesting is the fact that this did not start right after she had the first baby but several months later. As if the bubble of enchantment that the little baby brought burst suddenly. From that moment on she struggles. I could feel the exhaustion of that woman and I know that this is very realistic. Women around me have mentioned it. If you are unlucky and have a baby that doesn’t sleep well and you need to go to work every morning… Ruth is a journalist and her work is very demanding. There is always someone waiting to jump into her position should she show signs of weakness.

I also hear the type of questioning very often that Ruth utters. Is it OK to work full-time and have children? Is it OK to have someone else looking after them? I think in the book the problem isn’t only that Ruth works full-time but that both work overtime and that she tries for too long to cope with everything else as well. She is afraid that having a nanny means defeat. And she thinks that women like Nigella Lawson are an example for the fact that it is possible to have and do it all yourself.

There is a strange fascination in seeing people at their most vulnerable, when their masks are down. That’s what made this book so riveting for me. And I think the questions it asks are very important.

I would be curious to hear from anyone who has read it.

This was Araminta Hall’s first novel. I really wouldn’t mind reading the next one too.