Elly Griffiths

Quercus, Hbk £16.99

Released: Feb 4th 2010

Reviewer: Judith Cutler


Judith Cutler is the author of several popular series featuring feisty women detectives, though her protagonists now include a nineteenth century parson (Keeper of Secrets and Shadow of the Past).  Since her first novel was published in 1995 she has since gone on to write nearly thirty more. Her latest, Staging Death, is published by Allison & Busby. Her website is


Elly Griffiths was new to me but her first book won excellent critical reviews, and if life is fair this one will too.  Her protagonists are a thoroughly decent, but very much married DCI – Harry Nelson – and Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist based at the University of North Norfolk, who happens to be carrying Nelson’s baby. It’s Ruth who has to check on any human remains found in any of the digs taking place in the area, not the best job in the world if you’re at the nausea stage of pregnancy. 

When a skeleton – minus its skull – is found on a demolition site in Norwich, once a Catholic orphanage, and before that the family home of the firm due to develop the site, she is summoned to discover whether they are part of a ritual sacrifice or simply plain murder.  They’re not ancient, which is worrying, given the reputation such orphanages have, and might be those of one of the two children who ran away during the tenure of a retired priest.  Except that they’re too old…  And the more she tries to unearth about the case, the more she realises that someone is trying to scare her off.  And when that doesn’t work, they’re trying to kill her. 

The narrative bustles along, partly because it is written throughout in the present tense, which might irritate some readers.  It is lively and witty: Ruth’s mother looks ‘like Queen Victoria in M&S slacks’, for instance, while the police pathologist is ‘young and exhaustingly enthusiastic’.  Ruth herself is a pleasantly, indeed endearingly flaw character, with an obligatory cat who is not going to enjoy the arrival of a human rival.  The background is grim, but never harsh enough to take the reader into the realms of noire.

A very civilised piece of entertainment, highly recommended.






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