Book Review: The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

6688087Title: The Crossing Places

Author: Elly Griffiths

Genre: Thriller, Mystery and Suspense

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 5 stars

Purchase: Goodreads, Amazon, B&N

When she’s not digging up bones or other ancient objects, quirky, tart-tongued archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives happily alone in a remote area called Saltmarsh near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants – not quite earth, not quite sea.

When a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach nearby, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls Galloway for help. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to ritual and sacrifice.

The bones actually turn out to be two thousand years old, but Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers.

Then another child goes missing and the hunt is on to find her.

As the letter writer moves closer and the windswept Norfolk landscape exerts its power, Ruth finds herself in completely new territory – and in serious danger.

THE CROSSING PLACES marks the beginning of a captivating new crime series featuring an irresistible heroine.

Goodreads reviews for The Crossing Places are mixed, but I have to say that I did enjoy this suspense novel that mixes archeology and crime in an enticing story. I didn’t expect much when I started reading, as I had never heard of the author nor the book before. The blurb drew me in. But as soon as I started the book, I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll talk about characters first, plot second, settings third and writing last.

Ruth Galloway, the main character, isn’t the typical heroine you’d expect in a crime story. She’s a forty-something, overweight academic who is genuinely convinced her weight makes her unattractive. She’s a loner surrounded more by cats than people, and lives close to the marshlands, the Saltmarsh, near Norfolk. As an archeologist, the discovery of a two thousand year old skeleton in the marshland behind her home makes her more than a little excited. I liked Ruth because she was different – it was like she’d walked straight out of an entirely different novel and sat down in the middle of this one. Lately it seems like I’ve been reading more and more books with academics playing a large role, and I’m kind of fond of these types of protagonists, the ones who think first and act later. The old cliché of an action-packed police force trying to reign in the killer is getting tiresome, and I much prefer the less straightforward protagonist. Ruth is a woman with a lot of self-doubt, and it made her all the more real for me. She depends too much on other people, like her mentor and the other academics at university, and spends too much time worrying what others might think of her. The discovery of the bones is a blessing in disguise for Ruth, because it allows her to venture outside of her known territory and maybe try something new and exciting.

Then there’s Harry Nelson, Chief Inspector of the police, and everything Ruth isn’t. Athletic, strong, powerful, dominant. His very presence in a room is overwhelming – the kind of person who dominates an entire crowd simply by making an appearance, a stark contrast to Ruth’s personality. Ruth is a scholar and Harry is a man of action. He’s tormented by the case of a girl who went missing ten years ago, Lucy, a case never solved. Harry is more of a stereotype, the one of the tormented detective, haunted by this one particular case that won’t leave him alone. Nevertheless, he too steps outside of the known character stereotypes, because he’s okay with thinking outside of the box and seeing the connection between the thousand-year-old corpse in the marsh and the disappearance of Lucy.

Plot-wise, the book was mediocre at best. A body is discovered in the marshland, and Chief Inspector Harry Nelson thinks it may be Lucy, the missing girl from ten years ago. Ruth and her team of archeologists go to investigate, but it turns out the body is over two thousand years old. Involuntarily, the discovery of the ancient bones draws Ruth into the investigation. Ever since Lucy went missing, Harry has received letters with bizarre references to sacrifices and rituals, and asks Ruth to help decipher those letters. The letters point toward a fellow archeologist Ruth used to know, and the longer Ruth decides to help the police, the more she becomes involved in the case, which is a lot closer to home than she realized…

I actually figured out who had taken Lucy from the first moment said person was introduced. I kind of predicted the end halfway through the book. But, it had enough twist and turns to keep me interest, and I was really impressed by the combination of law enforcement and crime solving and archeology. I’m a huge archeology freak, and I love crime novels, so for me this was the ultimate twist. The mystery with the rituals and sacrifice had me intrigued as well. While the plot bordered on predictable, I was still impressed by how intrigued I was by what was going on, and how much I enjoyed reading about it.

The setting was extraordinary, and very well-described. The bleak, unforgiving landscape of the marshland behind Ruth’s house provided a dreary, depressive and sometimes dark and haunting setting. At times, it seemed like the marsh itself had become a character in this book.

A lot of Goodreads reviewers complained about the use of present tense in this book, but it didn’t bother me. I actually like books written in present tense – it adds a sense of urgency. The sometimes excessive use of exclamation points didn’t bother me either, I guess I was too engrossed in the story to care. Nevertheless, I understand the point about complaining about the tense of this book, and if you think it might annoy you as well, then better stay away from this book.

If you’re a fan of archeology and crime however, and you don’t care about some writing choices, then The Crossing Places is an excellent choice.

Comments

  1. I finished this one a few days ago and I agree with almost everything you said. 🙂 I figured out who the murderer was quite early too so it wasn’t too much of a shock. I wasn’t particularly keen on the present tense either. But I loved the chemistry between Ruth and Nelson <3

  2. I loved the chemistry between Ruth and Nelson as well! I hope their relationship continues and reaches a new level in the next book. 🙂

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