My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If I hadn’t agreed to review Elly Griffiths’ The House at Sea’s End (Ruth Galloway Mysteries)
(Houghton Mifflin 2011), I might have stopped reading after a handful of pages, but I did promise so I read on. By page seven, that turned out to be a good decision.
You see, the first six pages were more like the character-centric and emotion-driven writing of literary fiction than the action-intensive plot I’d expect from an author who won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for an outstanding suspense novel. Nothing grabbed me by the throat–until the ambivalent, happy-go-lucky troupe of archaeologists Griffiths chose for her opening scene uncovered dead bodies and called the police. Then, finally, I knew I had the right book.
The House at Sea’s End is the story of sixty-year old dead bodies which turn out to be those of six German soldiers. Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist and the main character of this series, is contacted to determine whether their deaths are attributable to WWII or murder. When more people are killed, it becomes clear whichever the answer, someone wants the secret to remain hidden and the story takes off, moving toward a fast-paced surprise ending that is satisfying enough to make me want to read more about the adventures of the homely sometimes doddering Ruth Galloway, her infant daughter’s clandestine father Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, and the eclectic mix of supporting characters.
Lets start with the characters. They are a dour group, with an impassive approach to life as though it were a difficult child to be tolerated rather than enjoyed. Yet, in the few short scenes Griffiths devotes to each supporting actor, she does a masterful job of fleshing out their motivations, their desires, making me care for their ruminations about an upcoming dinner party or the TV show that might be missed due to work demands or a visitor they haven’t sufficiently prepared for–all in the middle of what could be a serial killer inhabiting their hamlet. They are so believable, I am left to wonder if their attitudes are typical of Brits or pulled whole fabric from Griffiths’ fertile imagination.
This quirky group, as well as the cold British coastline, transform what could be an overused plot (someone finds dead bodies, police must track down the killer and stop him/her from more murder) into a solid story. I give much credit to Griffiths’ skill as a storyteller, told with a hint of humor (‘the effect is slightly ruined by the fact that he has forgotten his car keys…’) and an instinct for weaving motive and emotion in at just the right places. For those in a hurry, here’s all you need to know: If you like Elizabeth George, you’ll like Griffiths.
One piece I dislike is that Griffiths writes in present tense. I find it annoying, its only saving grace that it makes flashbacks as obvious as a sunny day on the British coastline. That aside, once I put aside my distaste for her chosen tense, I found myself completely engrossed up to the last surprising sentence. I’d highly recommend it.
Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s seeking representation for a techno-thriller that she just finished. Any ideas? Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.