A Room Full of Bones
Elly Griffiths
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Buy *A Room Full of Bones: A Ruth Galloway Mystery* by Elly Griffiths online

A Room Full of Bones: A Ruth Galloway Mystery
Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover
352 pages
July 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Griffiths is one of England’s freshest mystery writers. Her novels combine a dramatic sense of place with a complicated mystery, and with each new installment, her character of Ruth Galloway becomes more complex and dynamic. With the bulk of the tale set on the Norfolk Saltmarsh where “the Gods of the night still reign,” A Room Full of Bones also delivers a potent and thought-provoking exploration of the power of Aboriginal Dreamtime.

The story engages from the outset, when Ruth is called upon to utilize her usual commonsense and well-versed academic tenacity. Disturbing the dead is an occupational hazard for a forensic archaeologist, a job Ruth is only too willing to do when she’s invited to the Smith Museum to officiate over the grand opening of a wooden coffin believed to be that of Augustine Smith, a legendary medieval bishop. She is unprepared for the sight before her, however: while the body of the Bishop lies in the coffin on a trestle table, the body of the curator, Neil Topham, lies dead on the floor, his face and body covered in blood.

Ruth is of the opinion that Topham probably had a heart attack, but her druid friend Cathbad thinks the curator’s demise is somehow connected to the Eliginists, a fringe group dedicated to the repatriation of sacred artifacts like the bones of the Aboriginal dead. The Smith museum currently holds four Indigenous Australian skulls forcibly removed from their ancestral ground by the ancestors of Sir Danforth Smith, a local blueblood who also owns Slaughter Hill House, a prestigious horse racing stable. Now on an ancestral mission, Lord Smith is adamant that the bones are not going anywhere, despite objections from his wife and two children.

While the actual hunt for Topham’s killer involves wading through a series of threatening letters, the romantic triangle between Ruth, DCI Harry Nelson, and Nelson’s wife, Michelle, continues to take center-stage amid tales of glass snakes and ghostly horsemen and a series of malignant forces waiting to strike. Although Nelson and Ruth’s relationship is characterized by respect, pleasure and undeniable attraction, seeing Harry again brings on mixed emotions of relief, incredulity and anger, and ends up catapulting Ruth into a defensive mode that no amount of recounting can erode.

In her ghostly story of silent curses and bad karma, Griffith unfolds a complex chorus of disbelieving hope, where a man points the bone of fire and the devil is thought to embark on revenge as he shimmers in and out of that other dimension. The strange tableau that appears within the bishop’s coffin convinces Nelson that there are indeed nefarious goings-on at Slaughter Hill. For her part, Ruth begins to suspect her new Australian neighbor and then poor Cathbad, a man well-known for his violent passions and unwavering opinions.

Although not the greatest of literature, Griffiths' tale makes us feel the sense of local Norfolk atmosphere that she wants her readers to experience. She possesses real skill at presenting multiple points of view from different ages, genders, experiences and backgrounds. Each character, whether likable or not, is unique, fully-fleshed and lifelike. But the real star of the tale is Ellie's home: the Norfolk Saltmarsh, the bleak expanse of wind-blown grass and treacherous stretches of quicksand where the tide rushes in across the mudflats, ever threatening to turn the land into sea.

Still overweight and unmarried, Ruth has known real terror in the Saltmarsh, where the dark nights and the unknown days can be a fatal trap for the unwary. Griffiths certainly knows how to make us feel what it means to be a daily part of Ruth’s life as once again, she gently nudges the reader into her heroine’s world of hidden paths and secret crossing places.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2012

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