Griffiths, Elly - 'Dying Fall'
The fifth book in a series that features Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist employed at a 'new' university in Norfolk, with a special interest in bone preservation. She's been consulted by the police several times before, leading to her involvement in both criminal investigations and with a senior (and married) police officer called Nelson, with whom she had a very brief affair, resulting in the arrival of her daughter Kate (now 18 months old). She lives in a remote cottage near the sea with Kate and her cat.
In this new outing, Ruth discovers that an old student friend of hers, with whom she's mostly lost touch, has died in a house fire. Dan, apparently destined for great things as a student, has in fact ended up teaching at another 'new' university, Pendle, somewhere near Blackpool. The circumstances of his death turn out to be suspicious, particularly as his mobile phone and laptop computer are missing, as Nelson discovers when he rings his old friend and former colleague Sandy, who is in charge of the case.
Then Ruth receives an invitation to go to Pendle from Dan's boss, Clayton Henry, to examine the ancient bones that Dan had recently recovered from a dig. Are they the bones of an old and ancient king of England? Does Dan's discovery have something to do with his death? Intrigued, and ignoring a text warding from an anonymous person not to go, Ruth decides to pack up Kate and drive to the other side of the country for a combined holiday and bone inspection, taking along her spiritual friend Cathbad. Separately, Nelson and his wife Michelle also decide to go off on holiday, to visit Michelle's mother who lives near Blackpool, giving Nelson the opportunity to pop in on his old friend Sandy, and keep an informal eye on the investigation into Dan's death.
So, a gentle 'crime investigation on holiday' ensues, where a gradual uncovering of the circumstances surrounding Dan's death is accompanied by trips to the seaside with Kate, a renewal of a friendship with another old student friend, Caz, spiritual asides with Cathbad, descriptions of Nelson's relationship with his mother-in-law, and the awkward scenes between Michelle, her family, and Ruth and Kate. Eventually, it builds up to a rather tense ending in Blackpool.
The crime story almost takes a back-seat while the almost soap opera story of Ruth, Kate, Nelson, Michelle and Cathbad moves forward. Much is made of the fact that Ruth is 'fat and over forty', can't possibly be attractive, and yet is a successful single mother with a dogged determination to get to the bottom of things (in this case - Dan's death). I found this to be an entertaining read that doesn't get the heart racing and yet is intriguing all the same. It is slightly irritating that it's always one of the main characters that ends up in a dangerous situation in each of the books (so not difficult to guess that the same will happen in this book). But this quibble aside, Elly Griffiths has written another book that is likely to be as successful as the last ones, and I'm sure I'll be reading the next one.
Michelle Peckham, England