Book review: The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

Crossing The Crossing Places
By Elly Griffiths (Quercus, 2009)

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel by Elly Griffiths, which depicts a vivid and attractive character, Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist at North Norfolk University, a fictional institution near the salt marshes of the east coast of England. Ruth is 40 and lives alone in an isolated cottage on the marshes. (There are only two other cottages nearby.) She’s a keen and able academic, bringing an enthusiasm to her analysis of old bones and what they tell her about the way of live of our prehistoric ancestors that is most engaging.  Ruth is content in her solitude, living with two cats after ending her relationship with Peter, another academic,  a couple of years previously. Ruth’s parents, however, are a malign influence on her inner life, as she regularly reflects on their constant disapproval of her atheist, independent lifestyle, and their criticisms of her weight and dishevelled appearance.

As the novel opens, some human bones are found at the edge of the salt marsh where Ruth lives. The police have been searching for Lucy, a child who went missing 10 years ago, so they ask the archaeology department at the university to help them examine the find. Ruth performs the analysis and is able to tell the police, in the shape of DCI Harry Nelson, that the bones date from a couple of thousand years ago. Later, Harry calls Ruth and asks her to look at taunting letters he has been receiving since Lucy’s disappearance. Despite their differences in style – Harry is a gruff northerner who is married to Michelle, a “bottle blonde” who runs a hairdressing salon, and with whom he has two teenaged daughters who like shopping and parties – whereas Ruth loves reading, walking and her solitary life away from people and noise, the two instinctively recognise that they have in common a seriousness about their rather similar lines of work.

Ruth is able to provide Harry with some leads from her analysis of the letters. Then, another young girl goes missing, presumed abducted while playing with her siblings in the family garden. Harry turns to Ruth for advice at various points in his investigation, as the mismatched pair develop a mutual respect and liking. This attraction of opposites is a really great part of the book, particularly the character of Ruth, a warm and humorous woman who despite being patronised by her male colleagues pursues her own goals without being distracted.

The mystery aspects of the story are less satisfactory, depending too much on coincidence and on a small cast of characters. Although one of the subplots is cleverly deconstructed, the other one fails to convince or explain. I don’t want to reveal some of the flaws here, as this would spoil new readers’ enjoyment of this extremely promising book – not least because it ends at a very interesting point for Ruth’s future.

The next book in this series, The Janus Stone, has recently been published, and is high up on my reading list.

Read reviews of The Crossing Places and The Janus Stone, both by Pat Austin, at Euro Crime.

Review of The Crossing Places by Peter Millar in The Times.

Interview with the author, Elly Griffiths, at Shotsmag.

The Crossing Places has been reviewed on many book blogs.

10 thoughts on “Book review: The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

  1. Maxine – Thanks for this detailed and thoughtful review. I must admit that I’m most attracted to books that have a tight plot and solid mystery, but Ruth’s character sounds very interesting – even intriguing. I’m putting this on my TBR list.

  2. I think the place and the protagonist sound absolutely compelling so I am quite ready to forgive her one flaw. She goes on the list immediately.

  3. And there it was already! I can see that Cathy from Kittling: Books gave it an A recently. She is another reviewer I trust when she reviews crime.

  4. Hi Maxine, only recently discovered your site and I absolutely love it ! I have read both books by Elly Griffiths and they are very very good indeed. Highly recommended.

  5. Thank you, Deborah, how kind! The Janus Stone is burning a hole in my bookshelf as I can’t wait to see what Ruth does next after the end of The Crossing Places! Maybe I’ll pick it up next, having just finished a book this morning.

  6. I just bought Crossing Places and read about 5 pages when I took it out of the amazon box. I’m saving it for this weekend. I will have time to sit down with no interruptions.
    I’m a fan of archeology and forensic science. Two of my favorite authors are Beverly Connor and Kathy Reichs, both have characters in the same field. If you haven’t read either of these authors, I highly recommend them.
    Thank you for providing the excellent review. I’ll let you know what I thought of the book.

  7. Thanks for your comment, Marnie. I hope you enjoy Crossing Places. I did read the first few Kathy Reichs books but don’t read them any more – I found them a bit slow and could not really get that interested in “Tempe’s” life. I haven’t tried Beverly Connor so will look her up, many thanks for the recommendation! By the way, Simon Beckett’s latest, Whispers of the Dead (now in paperback in the UK) is a good forensic thriller, I think. Perhaps more teetering on the Patricia Cornwell end than the Kathy Reichs end, but much better than Patricia Corwell’s last dozen books, in my view.

  8. Well…..I ended up here looking for something else but what a coincidence.
    I also started Crossing Places and read for an hour before demands ere made upon my person to provide a taxi service for my wife…….back soon….can’t wait

  9. Pingback: The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths | The Game's Afoot

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