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 In Wonderland 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…)