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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

‘The Woman in Blue’ by Elly Griffths

Published by Quercus,
4 February 2016.
ISBN: 978 1 78429 237 9 (HB)

A new Ruth Galloway title from Elly Griffiths is always a treat, and The Woman in Blue doesn’t disappoint.
The focus of the action remains in Norfolk, this time centring on Walsingham, where tourists and pilgrims abound, especially around Easter. The Virgin Mary is a key figure in the town, and when a beautiful woman in a blue robe appears in a churchyard, it’s unclear at first whether she is real or a vision.

Then Ruth is asked to play detective herself, by an old acquaintance who is receiving hate mail of a particularly vicious kind. The acquaintance is a woman priest, in Walsingham for a conference along with several others; the letter-writer is violently opposed to women in the priesthood.

The first murder seems unconnected with the letters; the second strikes closer to home, and Ruth finds herself embroiled whether she wants to be or not.

Since archaeologist Ruth’s involvement with the police is only peripheral and occasional – she acts as a consultant when old bones are unearthed – one of the big challenges in a series is to create one situation after another in which she can take a hand in a murder investigation. It helps that DCI Harry Nelson, head of the Serious Crimes Unit, is the father of her five-year-old daughter; but it still takes skill to entangle Ruth with complex investigations and keep the storyline credible. Elly Griffths succeeds unquestionably, here as always, even without ancient skeletons to identify.

The usual cast of characters are firmly in place, each developing a little further as they have in every title in this engaging series. Neanderthal Sergeant Clough is in love, and mellowing; part-time druid Cathbad is settling down to domesticity; Nelson’s glamorous wife Michelle is having an emotional crisis. Ruth herself is coping well with single motherhood (though many mums would love to share her wonderfully obliging childminder) and beginning to come to terms with her feelings for Nelson. It all forms an engrossing backcloth to the murder investigation, and Walsingham comes to life as a suitably spooky location.

Griffiths also offers a wry take on women priests, who, it seems, are as capable of getting drunk and raucous as any group of thirty-somethings, much to Ruth’s surprise. I sometimes wonder if Ruth’s sardonic view of the world mirrors the author’s own; whether or not this is the case, she’s one of my favourite characters in fiction –  independent though still a little vulnerable, flawed in a thoroughly human way, far more clearsighted than she or anyone else gives her credit for.

Elly Griffths has struck fictional gold with Ruth Galloway, and The Woman In Blue is one of her best so far. Long may Ruth continue.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Elly Griffiths is the author of a series of crime novels set in England’s Norfolk county and featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. The first in the series, Crossing Places, earned a good deal of praise both in Griffiths’ native country, England, and in the U.S. The Literary Review termed it “a cleverly plotted and extremely interesting first novel, highly recommended.  Since then Elly has written six further novels featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, The Janus Stone, The House at Seas End, A Room Full of Bones, Dying Fall, The Outcast Dead  and  two books in a  new series set in the 1950’s.  

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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