My love for Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway mysteries continues with the sixth installment, The Outcast Dead. I loved catching up with Ruth, daughter Kate, and DCI Harry Nelson and his team of DIs, as well as Cathbad and his dog, Thing. It’s the reason I return again and again to the series: because the core characters are likeable and interesting. With every book, while Griffiths has stalled any further relationship between Harry and Ruth, the group grows ever closer, either in friendship, or intimacy. The Outcast Deads sees an addition: a new DI who, Griffiths hints in one sly little scene, may play an ever-more interesting part in Nelson’s life (or this could be a red herring, only more reading will answer my questions) and a possible new love interest for Ruth, an American no less! Events concluding The Outcast Dead, in particular, see interesting developments and changes. As for the mystery itself, while compelling and seeped in Ruth’s love of the “dig,” well, it was emotionally the most difficult of the lot.
When The Outcast Dead opens, Ruth’s career is taking off in new directions, with a book deal at the proofs stage and a documentary TV appearance thanks to a recent find. At Norwich Castle, Ruth unearthed the infamous Mother Hook (because of her “hook” limb, as in “Captain Hook”), a Victorian infanticidal murderess hanged for her crimes. As Ruth and Kate (only two!) navigate Ruth’s new-found roles, successes, and their time demands, with child-minding and a surprise visit from Ruth’s brother, Ruth is drawn into a case of child abductions headed by DCI Harry Nelson. The case also sees the return of Ruth’s friend, Cathbad (the druid!) from his self-imposed exile in Lancashire (there be reasons and they be resolved by the end of The Outcast Dead, but I don’t want to spoil.)
I think another reason why I enjoy this series (and it is strongly present in this volume) is the tension between Harry’s brass-tacks approach to policing, Ruth’s sharp reasoning to resolution, and a thread of mystical “coincidences” that underlie the solution to the crime and the characters’ lives and relationships. Those messy things, emotions and forces that Cathbad refers to as the “spirits” play their role as much as reason and observation do. I loved this concluding passage, which sums up Ruth’s thoughts on the tension between reason and faith (for want of a better word):
Was […] looking after […]? One one level, Ruth doesn’t believe a word of it … But, on another level … she thinks of the lights on the Saltmarsh at night, of the time when Cathbad claimed to have visited the underworld in a dream, of the saints and the spirits, of the many times her foolish heart has overruled her scientific head. The best that she can say now is that she isn’t sure. About anything.
It is always a reason-spirit combination that leads to the crime’s solution, coupled with the theme that identifies the best crime fiction, the main character(s)’ motivation to bring out what is good and what is just.
The past, as exemplified by the intrepid Ruth, also plays its role, informing the present, requesting redressing if an injustice has been done. The novel’s subject matter, parents, children, and children in danger, be warned, may be difficult. I certainly thought so. Because of this, I can’t say I read it with pleasure, but I did and do continue to relish learning about Ruth and Harry, Judy and Clough (who exhibits a new maturity here, or as Harry thinks, “Cloughie was growing up), Cathbad, Kate (what a marvelous moppet!), new-guy Tim, and others, especially Ruth’s and Harry’s clueless superiors, who are beautifully ridiculed (and provide much-needed comic relief). I will take a one-book break to catch up with another series and then it’s back to Dr. Ruth Galloway!