Gosh, I love these Ruth Galloway mysteries. Totally hooked. Reader-ga-ga. I have six in the TBR and one anticipated in 2020 before I await the next volume (as I do C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr historical mysteries). As always, I try to read each volume slowly and savor, but the last quarter sucks me in; today, errands and chores forgotten, I sat in the old reading chair and inhaled A Dying Fall.
To sustain a great series, as Griffiths and Harris do, requires a lovely balance of various elements: firstly, there must be an element of surprise in the mystery, its context and motivations; secondly, an element of familiarity, in the detecting figures; thirdly, those familiar figures, if they prove introspective about their lives, which Ruth and Harry prove to be in every volume thus far, and the events occurring around the crime, grow more compelling. So, the new, the familiar, and the nuance in the familiar make for a beloved, anticipated-next-book series.
Though I’m the kind of mystery reader who’s more interested in the lives of the familiar detecting figures than I am in the “crime” itself, Griffiths’s series manages to engage me in all three ways. Firstly, her main detecting figure, Ruth Galloway, is a forensic archaeologist, a discipline I find fascinating. Secondly, her on-again-off-again love interest, DCI Harry Nelson is a gruff, at times chauvinistic, copper, more lethal, subtle, and intelligent than meets the eye. They’re what we’d call in romance an opposites-attract pairing and I do love me this trope.
In A Dying Fall, Griffiths offers a shot of the new by moving Ruth and her almost-two-year-old Kate, Harry, his wife, Michelle, Ruth’s friend and Kate’s godfather, the druid Cathbad out of Norfolk and into a holiday stint in Harry’s hometown of Blackpool. Harry is feeling nostalgic about his home turf and, as a result of him and Michelle taking their hols there, we’re also introduced to his and her respective families. Ruth, on the other hand, without Harry’s knowledge, travels to the area at the request of Pendle University who’ve asked her to examine some recently discovered bones, possibly those of King Arthur himself. Ruth is, of course, keen to go, not only because this would be a fascinating mission, but because the bones were discovered by a long-ago UCL friend, Dan Golding. Golding recently died in a house fire, but had written to Ruth asking for her help with his amazing find. Ruth’s reasons are thus, personal and professional, but no less is her reason for being close to Harry. As it turns out, that house fire wasn’t an accident and Ruth, and soon Harry, are caught up in the machinations that led to Dan’s death and that he was himself embroiled in.
At first, I wasn’t as keen on Galloway #5 as I was on the first four because Harry and Ruth are not often together, which is true of the novel until the last quarter. On the other hand, there are several fascinating reckoning moments vis-à-vis what they mean to each other. There is also a sense of settling into their skins and lives that I found only made my affection for them and the adorable Kate grow. This book, however, also belongs to Ruth’s friend, Cathbad, a quirky, eccentric figure in the first few books, maybe even a kook as Harry originally thinks. But Cathbad too has grown into someone of great depth, despite his continued bizarre pronouncements of feeling the spirits and such, with his own tragedy and story yet-to-be-told. The mystery itself is a sly comment on racism and prejudice, which, considering the novel came out in 2013, sounds sadly too familiar in this age of Brexit. What totally captured my attention, however, is the pulse-pounding conclusion — a term I hate as it’s often attached to action flicks and I hate action flicks. I was on the edge of my ole reading chair and I even forgave Griffiths for the ambivalent ending to where Ruth and Harry stand. Another great addition to the series and sadly, one fewer Galloway for me.