My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This may be the last of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series I read. It has nothing to do with Griffiths’ writing skills–she’s wonderful. Her dialogue is crisp, her settings vibrant and enticing, her plot engaging. I even love most of the characters–who couldn’t be enchanted by the Druid Cathbad with a heart of gold and the easy-going attitude toward life we would all love to emulate. I can easily understand why it’s a Mary Higgins Clark award-winner.
The problem is Ruth Galloway–the main character. I don’t like her.
But I’m ahead of myself. This latest book penned by Elly Griffiths, A Dying Fall (Houghton Mifflin 2013) dwells on that rich content we armchair anthropologists love–ancient bones with stories to tell. In this case, a colleague of Galloway’s (Dan Golding) discovers them, contacts Ruth, but dies in a mysterious house fire before he can discuss his find. As luck would have it, the friend’s employer (a struggling college) invites Galloway (a well-known expert in this field) to evaluate what should be a 1500-year old skeleton in Golding’s stead. She quickly realizes the bones that likely caused her friend’s death have been replaced by worthless substitutes. It doesn’t take long for Golding’s killer to set his/her sights on Ruth and worse, her toddler daughter, Ruth uses her considerable intellect, her enigmatic friend Cathbad, and the father of her daughter DCI Nelson to unravel the mystery even as other lives are claimed in the murderer’s effort to stop Ruth from uncovering the truth.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And it is, despite being one of those present tense books that always take me a few chapters to get used to. Griffiths, like Elizabeth George, puts you smack amidst the English landscape in her scenes, characterizations, language, customs. Here are two examples:
They eat takeaways in front of Doctor Who
Beyond Ruth’s fence, the long grass is tawny and gold with the occasional flash of dark blue water as the marsh leads out to the sea. In the distance, the sand glimmers like a mirage, and further still, the sea comes whispering in to shore, heralded by the seagulls flying high above the waves.
Griffiths seamlessly weaves Ruth’s personal life into the plot–a daunting task that many author’s cannot do–without being distracting. And archeology is a thread always present:
She loves the mixture of painstaking order and backbreaking work, hauling earth about like a navvy one minute and dusting the sand away from a shard of bone the next. She loves the sight of a neat trench, its sides perfectly straight, the soil below exposed in clear layers.
You can’t go backwards, only forwards. Every archaeologist knows that. Time is a matter of layers, of strata, each firmly fixed in its own context.
But quickly, I tired of Ruth Galloway’s short-tempered, curmudgeonly approach to life. Where she started out smart and clever, quickly she became whiny and opinionated, escalating to close-minded. Is that the English stoicism gone amuck? Or is she so full of herself, so wrapped up in the World of Ruth, she can’t find room to be understanding, patient, or even consider that others might have a thought worth listening to? When I asked my PLN whetehr they considered it a mistake to craft an unlikable main character, many thought it was OK if that character was interesting enough.
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.