“Miss Bates…had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman…" Emma, Jane Austen
Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club was brought to my attention by Caroline Crampton during an episode of her SHEDUNNIT podcast (which, if you don’t follow, is marvellous). I’d seen it knocking around and obviously being enjoyed by many and Crampton’s recommendation made me pull it out of the gargantuan TBR.
From the back-cover blurb:
In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders. But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?
Not surprisingly, the blurb gets most of it right, but doesn’t quite represent the mystery novel’s originality, or complexity terribly well. Blurbs sell; they’re not there for the picky reviewer. In any case, there’s a hint of blurb cutsiness to the octogenarians that doesn’t do them justice. And for that, I liked Osman all the more. (more…)
This month’s winter of discontent came with a vengeance: appallingly bad weather, which, in Montreal, consists of cycles of freezing and thawing that leave us with ice-ponds to navigate and barricades of snow to o’er-leap; a non-stop work month from hell for me (I am, blissfully, on a two-week March break as of Friday, though my tax-time piles and dust-bunnies are balefully eying me); a world imploding in war; and reading conducted in the early morning hours when anxiety saw me sullenly awake before dawn. But I did read some books, none of which made anything better, but which I loved, enjoyed, and respected, respectively: Tana French’s The Likeness, Katherine May’s The Electricity of Every Living Thing, and Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.
Susie Steiner’s third Manon Bradshaw mystery is set in an England bloated by bigotry, pettiness, and violence against migrant workers. It’s a Brexit-world we’re in. Her protagonist? DI Manon Bradshaw of the Cambridgeshire police, more irreverently acerbic than ever. In book #1, Missing Presumed, Manon was a copper with a deep belief in her ability to solve a crime and bring justice to whom it’s due; in book #2, Persons Unknown, Manon is pregnant, sidelined, and drawn into a case because it involves family; in book #3, copper Manon is back, not by will, want, or ambition; she’s assigned to the possible murder of an illegal Lithuanian migrant worker (conditions akin to slavery, really, as Manon notes). That sense of completion, if not vindication, or justice, is nebulous at best and, by the end, we leave a Manon disheartened with policing. At the same time, of Steiner’s three Manon mysteries, Remain Silent is the funniest, tipping to black comedy, thanks to Manon’s dark humour, which I LOVED.
The blurb will supply some plottish detail for us:
Newly married and navigating life with a toddler as well as her adopted adolescent son, Manon Bradshaw is happy to be working part-time in the cold cases department of the Cambridgeshire police force, a job which allows her to “potter in, coffee in hand and log on for a spot of internet shopping–precisely what she had in mind when she thought of work-life balance.” But beneath the surface Manon is struggling with the day-to-day realities of what she assumed would be domestic bliss: fights about whose turn it is to clean the kitchen, the bewildering fatigue of having a young child in her forties, and the fact that she is going to couple’s counseling alone because her husband feels it would just be her complaining. But when Manon is on a walk with her two-year-old son in a peaceful suburban neighborhood and discovers the body of a Lithuanian immigrant hanging from a tree with a mysterious note attached, she knows her life is about to change. Suddenly, she is back on the job, full-force, trying to solve the suicide–or is it a murder–in what may be the most dangerous and demanding case of her life.(more…)
After a run of great books, Matthews’s Gentleman Jim, Griffiths’s StoneCircle, Bliss’s Redemption, I could not settle for less, so I grabbed Susie Steiner’s Persons Unknown from the night-stand. If it could be half as good as Missing, Presumed, I was in for another winner. It was and wasn’t. I still gave up sleep and human companionship to read non-stop, resisting the pull of obligation and meals. I still loved the characters, though Manon grated in this one, but Davy was as lovable as ever. I still loved how Steiner made her “coppers” pursue justice and even occasionally mercy and manage to have messy, at times pathetic, personal lives. (By the end, Davy’s speed-dating!) But the crime and Manon’s place in it were wrenchingly difficult to read about; Manon was difficult to read, weepy, hugely pregnant, cumbersome emotionally and physically.
Now to the blurb-summary to get the procedural details (my reviewer’s Achilles’ heel, I am rubbish at keeping track and am the reader ever-duped by red herrings):
As dusk falls, a young man staggers through a park, far from home, bleeding from a stab wound. He dies where he falls, cradled by a stranger, a woman’s name on his lips in his last seconds of life.
DI Manon Bradshaw can’t help taking an interest — these days, she handles only cold cases, but the man died just yards from the police station where she works.
She’s horrified to discover that both victim and prime suspect are more closely linked to her than she could have imagined. And as the Cambridgeshire police force closes ranks against her, she is forced to contemplate the unthinkable: How well does she know her loved ones, and are they capable of murder? (more…)
I am nearing the finish-line to the Ruth Galloway series, with only the most recent left to read, the June-released Nighthawks, before I join the thousands of readers awaiting the next installment. Chatting with a fellow-reader in church today, we agreed it’s time for Dr. Galloway and DCI Nelson to be together, pretty please, Ms Griffiths …
Like the previous eleven, The Lantern Men sees the familiar team, this time initially separated by choice or circumstance, come together to find a serial killer’s missing and murdered women (the women are long-buried and I can vouch, for the squeamish, that nothing gross, or violent appears in the novel; sentiments are terrible, but descriptive physical detail is at a minimum). Here are further details from the publisher’s blurb:
Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway changed her life—until a convicted killer tells her that four of his victims were never found, drawing her back to the place she left behind.
Everything has changed for Ruth Galloway. She has a new job, home, and partner, and she is no longer North Norfolk police’s resident forensic archaeologist. That is, until convicted murderer Ivor March offers to make DCI Nelson a deal. Nelson was always sure that March killed more women than he was charged with. Now March confirms this and offers to show Nelson where the other bodies are buried—but only if Ruth will do the digging.
Curious, but wary, Ruth agrees. March tells Ruth that he killed four more women and that their bodies are buried near a village bordering the fens, said to be haunted by the Lantern Men, mysterious figures holding lights that lure travelers to their deaths.
Is Ivor March himself a lantern man, luring Ruth back to Norfolk? What is his plan, and why is she so crucial to it? And are the killings really over?
After that at best forgettable romantic suspense, it was great to be back with Ruth, Kate, DCI Harry Nelson and his team, and the delicious complications of their personal lives amidst a series of crimes, a decades-long missing child, the murder of a King’s Lynn eccentric, and thank the reading gods after the last book’s Italian setting, Norfolk-set in the fog, rain, and cold.
The Stone Circle is definitely a Ruth Galloway which sees the past impinge on the present like the tides that rise near Ruth’s cottage, both in terms of the crime and the lives of its detecting figures. The publisher’s blurb will provide further detail:
DCI Nelson has been receiving threatening letters telling him to ‘go to the stone circle and rescue the innocent who is buried there’. He is shaken, not only because children are very much on his mind, with Michelle’s baby due to be born, but because although the letters are anonymous, they are somehow familiar. They read like the letters that first drew him into the case of The Crossing Places, and to Ruth. But the author of those letters is dead. Or are they?
Meanwhile Ruth is working on a dig in the Saltmarsh – another henge, known by the archaeologists as the stone circle – trying not to think about the baby. Then bones are found on the site, and identified as those of Margaret Lacey, a twelve-year-old girl who disappeared thirty years ago.
As the Margaret Lacey case progresses, more and more aspects of it begin to hark back to that first case of The Crossing Places, and to Scarlett Henderson, the girl Nelson couldn’t save. The past is reaching out for Ruth and Nelson, and its grip is deadly.
The bearing the past has on the present is treated in a more reflective fashion than the blurb’s somewhat sensationalist final sentence. Ruth often ruminates how the past plays its role in the present, how it should be studied and respected. Griffiths’ themes are always about solving a crime to put the past to rest, offer restitution to lives lost unjustly, and let their rest-in-peace give way to the living being able to carry on, even thrive. (more…)
Of all the Ruth Galloways I’ve read, this is the one I liked least. Not that it would convince me to abandon the series, that, I still adore and anticipate the next read and the one after that, until, alas, I’ll have to wait for the next book to be published.
In The Dark Angel, Griffiths transports her protagonists, Dr. Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson, to Italy, where they become involved in a murder investigation. The blurb sets out some of the details for us:
It’s not often that you’re called to the Italian countryside on business, so when archaeologist Angelo Morelli asks for Ruth Galloway’s help identifying bones found in picturesque Fontana Liri, she jumps at the chance to go, bringing her daughter along for a working vacation. Upon arriving, she hears murmurs of Fontana Liri’s strong resistance movement during World War II, and senses the townspeople have a deeply buried secret. But how could that connect to the ancient remains she’s been studying? Just as she’s getting her footing in the dig, DCI Nelson appears, unexpectedly and for no clear reason. When Ruth’s findings lead them to a modern-day murder, their holidays are both turned upside down, as they race to find out what darkness is lurking in this seemingly peaceful town.
Be warned, dear reader, that I will discuss the series’ happenings and bring about SPOILERS. If you’re keen on reading from book #1, and I encourage you to do so, you may want to return to the review in future.
I’ve realized that one of my favourite things on the blog is to foil the publisher’s blurb. 😉 Truth be told, Ruth jumps at the chance to go to Italy (accompanied by her friend, Shona, and Shona’s son, Louis, whose relationship with Ruth’s daughter, Kate, makes for the only comic relief) because her relationship with Harry, ever complicated, has become more so. Secondly, though Harry, because reasons, is still with his wife Michelle, he goes to Italy when he sees there’s been an earthquake in the region and is worried about Ruth and, as he calls her to Ruth’s annoyance, their daughter, “Katie”. (more…)
If there’s one thing I love about being on summer break, it’s catching up on my favourite contemporary mystery series, Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway. If you haven’t read them, what are you waiting for when you can have the perfect combination of archaeological (bones!) detail, northern England coastal descriptions, a wonderful, smart, funny heroine, a broody, old-fashioned-copper hero, his engaging team, and literary allusions, wonderful writing, great pacing? With every mystery, Griffiths intertwines it with parallel literary references; needless to say, I love this. In The Chalk Pit, Ruth’s daughter, Kate, has a tiny part in an Alice InWonderland production. Alice, with its subterranean nightmarish surrealism, reflects Ruth’s recent excavations in Norwich’s chalky tunnels, the world of people who “sleep rough”, lives swept under the rug by society, and DCI Harry Nelson’s pursuit of those who are murdering them and snatching, “disappearing”, Norfolk’s women. The blurb provides further details:
Far below Norwich is a maze of old mining tunnels. When Ruth Galloway is called to examine a set of human remains in one of them, she notices the bones are almost translucent, a sign they were boiled soon after death. Once more, she’s at the helm of a murder investigation. Meanwhile, DCI Nelson is looking for a homeless woman who he hears has gone “underground.” Could she have disappeared into the labyrinth? And if so, is she connected to the body Ruth found? As Ruth and Nelson investigate the tunnels, they hear rumors of secret societies, cannibalism, and ritual killings. And when a dead body is found with a map of what seems to be the full maze, they realize their hunt for the killer has only just begun—and that more bodies may be underfoot.
While this description does credit to Griffiths’s mystery, it doesn’t capture what the series’s fans enjoy as much: the complex relationship between Ruth and Harry, Griffiths’s shifting perspectives as investigations occur, making the mystery more compelling, the likeable secondary characters with fully-formed personalities, including the children, and Griffiths’s ability to create fascinating, multiple settings, whether police headquarters and its interview rooms, Ruth’s isolated coastal cottage, a school-playground, a cathedral, a homeless drop-in centre and shelter, a hospital waiting-room, and a narrative seamlessly immersive in action and introspective in the glimpses we get of the characters’ inner lives. (more…)