Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Book Report: The Crossing Places

15. Elly Griffiths, The Crossing Places (2009) (7/4/18)

I picked this book up thanks to a Bookshop Santa Cruz shelf recommendation—I'm always in the market for a good new mystery writer. And yesterday I was in the mood for a page-turner.

The protagonist here, a forensic archeologist named Ruth Galloway, lives on the edge of a bleak, isolated marshland in North Norfolk, England. The story involves her assisting one Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson when the bones of a child are discovered in the bog, which might be the bones of a young girl, Lucy, who disappeared ten years previously. No, turns out the bones are just Iron Age bones, possibly a ritual offering. But shortly after this discovery, another young girl goes missing—and is subsequently found dead in the middle of a "henge," or ancient circle made of upright timbers. Ruth's Norwegian mentor comes back to the area, as does her ex-boyfriend, and a local "druid" pops up, all of whom were working on excavating the henge ten years before when Lucy went missing. Old harms are aired, and old loves as well, and there's lots of ancient lore and even some T. S. Eliot. It's all rather convoluted, as mysteries so often are.

With this one, though, I twigged to the bad guy pretty much as soon as he was introduced. Okay, maybe the second time. It's a delicate balance, tossing red herrings around among solid clues. And even if the action and some of the motivations (but by no means all—including the bad guy's, in the end) were adequately written and paced—the twists and turns leading up to the terrifying nighttime chase through the one-false-step-and-you'll-get-swept-away marsh, in a cracking good thunderstorm to boot, carried one right along—I found this book, overall, unsatisfying. The writing was fairly pedestrian, and as I said, much of the motivation was, for me, hunh? Many of the characters, moreover, seemed to have remarkably little self-awareness: the friend of Ruth's who trips from married lover to married lover, for example; the ex-boyfriend who leaves his wife to woo Ruth back, though she no longer loves him (can't a fellow tell?); Ruth's own inability to say just why she loves living where she does (though she does know she prefers coffee to tea, so there's that). 

I love a page-turner, but I love one that makes me suspend disbelief (this one did not) and where I can get lost in the words, the characters, the story (this one lost me, but not in that good way).

The one area where I did appreciate Griffiths's way with words was in her descriptions of that land, as here:
Beyond her front garden with its windblown grass and broken blue fence there is nothingness. Just miles and miles of marsh-land, spotted with stunted gorse bushes and criss-crossed with small, treacherous streams. Sometimes, at this time of year, you see great flocks of wild geese wheeling across the sky, their feathers turning pink in the rays of the rising sun. But today, on this grey winter morning, there is not a living creature as far as the eye can see. Everything is pale and washed out, grey-green merging to grey-white as the marsh meets the sky. Far off is the sea, a line of darker grey, seagulls riding in on the waves. It is utterly desolate.
Except for those pesky seagulls contradicting the "not a living creature" statement, and the cliché of the "wheeling" geese, this is quite lovely and makes me want to experience that place myself. A couple of key landscape markers, such as bird-watching hides, are left out as well, but they'll come up later as things get cooking.

Despite Bookshop Santa Cruz's enthusiasm for the Ruth Galloway series, I think I'll be leaving my experience of it at this book, and move on in search of something more substantial.

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