Griffiths, Elly – ‘A Room Full of Bones’
Hardback: 352 pages (Jan. 2012) Publisher: Quercus Publishing Plc ISBN: 1849163669
Those readers who have loved the previous three books about forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway will, I am sure, thoroughly enjoy her latest outing. Ruth is an academic at the University of North Norfolk, and the mother of a one-year-old girl, Kate. She becomes involved in crimes either in her role as a consultant to the police, or – as here – by accident, and is usually instrumental in their solution.
Ruth is asked to be present at the opening of a coffin in the local museum, owned by the Smith family, so she can assess the contents. The coffin has been recently found, and is thought to contain the bones of a mediaeval bishop, Augustine. Ruth turns up at the appointed hour, only to discover the museum’s curator lying prone by the coffin. Detective Inspector Harry Nelson is called in to investigate, realising that Ruth’s involvement in this case is not going to make it easy for him to work on it.
Quickly, two possible motivating factors for the crime are identified. One is a drugs connection; the other involves the Indigenous Australian skeletal heads and bones that are “owned” by the museum because one of the Smith ancestors bought them back after travelling to that continent. The scope of the novel broadens to include the activities of the present-day Smiths, who own riding stables and train racehorses. Add into the mix a new neighbour of Ruth’s and the inevitable involvement of Cathbad (by day a lab technician, by night a Druid), and the reader is caught up in Ruth’s forensic discoveries and in the police investigations into an increasing number of crimes or nasty “pranks”.
In this novel, Ruth is more interested in her young daughter than in detection; even so she is pivotal to most of the events that transpire, not least concerning her discoveries about Bishop Augustine. The police characters continue to be rounded out more in each novel, a couple of previously minor characters taking a more central role here as Nelson is struck down by a mysterious malady and is rushed to intensive care. The awkward personal dynamics between several of the characters due to past impulsive actions provide another motivation for the reader, who can’t imagine how some of these (mostly seeming to involve pregnancy in one way or another!) will turn out.
A ROOM FULL OF BONES is a pleasing read, perhaps tending more to the “cosy” style of crime fiction than earlier instalments in the series, but is certainly exciting and with a more satisfying crime and detection element this time round as the plot is more clever and more robust. I could have done with reading more about Ruth’s professional life and slightly less about her motherhood bliss and details of her domestic arrangements, but I am sure that as Kate gets older and more independent, Ruth will have more time for trouble. I look forward to finding out.