Elly Griffiths – The Crossing Places

Forensic archaeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway is in her late thirties. She lives happily alone with her two cats in a bleak, remote area near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants – not quite earth, not quite sea. But her routine days of digging up bones and other ancient objects are harshly upended when a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach. Detective Chief Inspector Nelson calls Galloway for help, believing they are the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing a decade ago and whose abductor continues to taunt him with bizarre letters containing references to ritual sacrifice, Shakespeare, and the Bible. Then a second girl goes missing and Nelson receives a new letter –  exactly like the ones about Lucy.
     Is it the same killer? Or a copycat murderer, linked in some way to the site near Ruth’s remote home?

I’ve been rediscovering my love for crime and historical fiction the past month or two and The Crossing Places fits neatly into that reading streak. Featuring a thirty-something forensic archaeologist and a hard-bitten DCI, the book seemed like a fun read and after some starting problems, it was. One of the starting problems didn’t lie with the book, but with me; the way Ruth thinks about her appearance cut a little close to home and this made it hard for me to get into the novel. So The Crossing Places had a bit of a hill to climb to get me engaged, but climb it, it did. Once I got past my issue with Ruth and got used to the writing style – the story is told in the third person present tense, not my favourite narrative mode – it was a good read and I got more and more attached to both Ruth and Nelson.

Ruth and Nelson are a bit of an odd couple. She is an academic, who loves her archaeology and her bones, while he seems a proper British detective, straight out of Frost or Morse. But the chemistry between them is undeniable and they work well together. We spend most of our time with Ruth, so her character is the most well-rounded, Nelson is a good second, and while none of the supporting characters were cardboard cut-outs, some of them were hardly fleshed out. Then again, The Crossing Places – at 303 pages – is a very slim book, so there isn’t a lot of space for Ms Griffiths to work with.

A third character that is fully fleshed out, isn’t even human. The Saltmarsh is as important as any of the characters in the book, not even barring Ruth and Nelson. I love the atmospheric descriptions of the Saltmarsh. Ms Griffiths captures the desolation and beauty of such places very well, I think. It has its own moods, it can be quiet, peaceful, stormy, moody, bright, frightening, eerie and dangerous. I loved the central role it played in the book, both in the past and in the present.

The mystery of The Crossing Places is a good one. I enjoyed the archaeological aspects and while I’d guessed the ultimate criminal, I was surprised by the way we got to the resolution of the whodunit and by the ending. I was pleasantly surprised by this book, it totally won me over and I hope to revisit the series. In the end I really cared for both Ruth and Nelson and what happened to them; I really want to know what happens next. That in itself is telling, I guess, of the sort of story this is.

This book was sent to me for review by the publisher.