I’ve long admired Elly Griffiths’ brand of unshowy but emotionally complex crime fiction. The lead character, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, has a close relationship with DCI Harry Nelson of the Norwich police force, and each volume in the series introduces new twists into their lives. It’s one of the few series that acknowledges the realities of blended families, affairs, child care and elderly parents, in the lives of the investigators. The series also switches between town life (in Norwich) and rural settings, and this episode, “The Chalk Pit”, is set in town, or under it – a series of chalk tunnels under the city appear to have been the setting for at least one crime. Ruth has been called to investigate some bones, that are too recent to be of archaeological interest.
At the same time, a number of rough sleepers have been murdered soon after speaking to the police, with one being found dead on the steps of the police station itself. The police are also investigating a series of women who have gone missing with startling abruptness. The connections between these events are teased out, until a final battle leaves one of the main characters fighting for their life.
I shouldn’t be calling this “country crime”, but my excuse is that Ruth, with her isolated home on the saltmarsh, is a countrywoman regardless of where the crime takes place. It’s a shifty excuse, but any excuse to read a Griffiths. With each successive novel, the touch is more sure, and as this is the 9th in the series, this is accomplished and absorbing writing.
Before Easter, I couldn’t find a suitable Easter mystery to read, but during the holiday I found a handy list from Janet Rudolph, and before you know it, I’m on Amazon and my finger has strayed towards the buy-it button. Also on her site I found a link to awards for light-hearted crime, and there were more lists of books I’m sure I’d like and I could just go and check them out on A…. Step Away From the List. Now. (I have a librarianship gene: two of my aunts were librarians, and in moments of stress I tend to acquire books. Heredity’s a powerful thing.)
Meanwhile, back at the reading pile, I found “Thirteen Guests” by J. Jefferson Farjeon waiting. I really liked this, fortunately, because he was the brother of a favourite childhood author, Eleanor Farjeon, author of (among others) “The Little Bookroom“. Her brother writes with more emotion than many of his contemporaries, and I particularly enjoyed his amateur sleuth, the journalist Bultin, who found that fame only reached his doorstep once he stopped being nice. Most of the characters are viewed through the eyes of an inadvertent guest, John Foss, who catches his foot in the train door at the local station, and is brought up to the house by a fellow guest, the femme fatale Nadine Leveridge. Foss is then conveniently put up in a room just off the front hall, where he can hear all the comings and goings in the house.
The thirteen guests at Bragley Court, seat of Lord Aveling, are well set up, with plenty of secrets and motives established early on. The detection element, and the police inspector, seem to play a secondary role to that of the house-guests, and the ending is rushed, suddenly becoming more mechanical. However, it’s worth reading for the early chapters, and it left me wanting to read more of his work.
This week, it’s been a trip to the bleak shingle wastes of the Kent coast, the landscape made famous by Derek Jarman and his garden close to Dungeness nuclear power station. In this police procedural, a middle-aged constable who has devoted his life to community safety meetings and dull meetings with local councillors finds himself drawn into a murder enquiry when one of his neighbours on an isolated coastal road is brutally killed.
William South’s job is further complicated by his new boss, a woman who has recently moved down from London with her trouble-prone teenage daughter. She suggests that his home becomes the operational centre for the enquiry, and he quickly learns that his bird-watching neighbour had a number of secrets.
The story is intercut with South’s early history, in Troubles-era Northern Ireland. His father was involved with the paramilitaries, and it becomes clear early on that South has grown up with a sense of guilt as well as loss.
I found the Northern Irish element predictable, and by the end, it was slowing the pace of the present-day narrative. All the same, this is a highly readable and well-crafted novel, that breathes new life into familiar fictional territory. Thumbs up.
Now I know how the original readers of Christie’s “Murder of Roger Ackroyd” must have felt – a mixture of indignation (“Not fair, I was tricked!”) and admiration at how the trick was pulled off. All I can say is, the author of “Black Water Lilies” (Michel Bussi) would not be admitted to the Detection Club in the 1930s, because this book does not play fair.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it’s set in Giverny, northern France, the home of the Impressionist painter Monet, who in his later years painted many versions of his lily pond, with the water lilies depicted in every colour except black. If there were to be such a thing as Monet’s “Black Water Lilies”, it would be enormously valuable.
When a prominent local citizen is found dead in the stream that feeds Monet’s garden (I keep typing Money for some reason), a police inspector, Laurenc Serenac, newly arrived from southern France, is called in to investigate, but finds that the villagers have closed ranks. The one person he thinks could help is the village schoolteacher, Stephanie Dupain.
Giverny is as much a character as any of the humans, or the dog, and the perils of being a tourist village are highlighted, that sense of being not real, so photographed (and painted) that the village itself is a fiction. It is hard to pick apart the real from the imagined, and the reader is constantly searching for clues as to which is which. An impressively unexpected ending has sent me back to the beginning, to re-read.