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Tuesday 18 June 2024

‘The Man in Black’ by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus,
18 June 2024.
ISBN: 978-1-52942-049-4 (HB)

What could be better than a new Elly Griffiths story? Nineteen new Elly Griffiths stories, that’s what! And that’s exactly what her many devotees can look forward to in this collection of bite-size tales. Ruth Galloway is here; so are Max Mephisto and Harbinder Kaur. They each have their own story, sometimes more than one, and there’s one which features all three of them. Even Justice Jones gets a look in, from Griffiths’s series for young people, though this is a grown up version of Justice. But familiar faces and locations account for fewer than half the stories; the rest are mostly set on home ground, but a couple venture as far afield as Egypt and Sorrento.

Mostly the stories are the kind Elly Griffiths is best known for: mysteries to be solved, the occasional body. Not all of them, though; there are ghost stories, domestic mini-dramas, and warm, sometimes wistful tales that are just about people. Every single one features well observed characters, and comes laced with the wry wit and sideways look at the world which has become something of a trademark.

They all have two essential qualities in common: characters we can recognize, and locations we can visualize. Griffiths’s regular readers know that Nelson is stolid and slightly grumpy, albeit observant and shrewd; that Harbinder is far cleverer than she thinks she is; and that Max Mephisto’s charm doesn’t always conceal resourcefulness and keen perception. For readers making their first acquaintance, all those qualities and much more besides are as clear as crystal here; and a host of new characters are every bit as sharply drawn. The locations, too, unfold like a movie behind the action: beaches and towns, homes and gardens; the effect of different kinds of light on the sea; the perilous route across the saltmarsh to Ruth’s isolated cottage; the way British weather can turn on a sixpence.  

It all adds up to the kind of absorbing storytelling established fans have come to expect and new ones will enjoy for its own sake and as a taste of pleasures to come – but in bedtime reading chunks which won’t keep you up till the small hours and make you sleep through the alarm. Unless you’re like me, and just keep reading another one... and another... and another. And for those of you who haven’t yet discovered the full-length novels (there surely can’t be more than a dozen of them!) these mini-treats are an ideal jumping-off point.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Elly Griffiths  is the author of the bestselling Dr Ruth Galloway series, the Brighton Mysteries and three stand-alone crime novels. She won the 2020 Edgar Award for The Stranger Diaries and, in 2016, was awarded the CWA Dagger in The Library. The 15th Ruth book, The Last Remains, published in January 2023, was a Sunday Times bestseller. Elly also writes the Justice Jones mystery series for children.

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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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