Thursday, August 20, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: The House at Sea's End (Ruth Galloway, #3) by Elly Griffiths

The House at Sea's End is the third book in the Elly Griffiths' mystery series featuring Dr. Ruth Galloway, forensic anthropologist and lecturer at the fictional University of North Northwich, and DCI Harry Nelson, head of the major crimes unit of the Norwich Police Department. Nelson and Galloway have a complicated relationship, which due to a surprising event in the first book, The Crossing Places, has ongoing repercussions in both their lives.

Now that I have read the first three books, I think I have a better overall sense of the series. There are some common themes and ongoing story elements and repeated plot points. The first common theme is that since Ruth is an anthropologist, the initial crime/mystery is almost always a cold case, sparked by the discovery of old bones. The second common theme is Ruth herself, and her relationships with the primary characters in her life (Nelson; Cathbad, the enigmatic, self-proclaimed Druid who always appears to be in the right place at the right time; her "best friend" Shona the beautiful homewrecker; and Ruth's holier-than-thou Born Again parents). The third theme is the format of the book: British police procedural/murder mystery with a soupcon of romance. These are all features of the book which are done quite well and will probably be the primary reason I continue to read the series in the future.

One of the problematic ongoing story elements is Ruth's relationship with Harry Nelson, whom she works with to solve crimes. Suffice it to say there is significant romantic tension there, and that "it's complicated." Nelson has a beautiful wife named Michelle and two daughters, but the Ruth and Nelson have great physical chemistry, despite Ruth's body image issues (she's definitely on the plump side) and while Ruth is a professor and a scholar, Nelson never finished high school, but is also quite accomplished at his job and used to being in charge. Another ongoing story element is the setting of the books, in the (fictional) town of King's Lynn near the Saltmarsh of Northern England. Ruth loves the area (and so apparently does the author, because rarely do many pages go by before we read more paragraphs about the beauty of the cold, wet sea).

One of my biggest concerns with the books so far has been the repeated plot point of putting Ruth in danger towards the climax of the books when the mysteries are starting to be solved and the identity of the perpetrator becomes reduced to a smaller set of possibilities, until eventually we find Ruth trapped in a confined area with a homicidal maniac while Cathbad and Nelson trying to rescue her. It's true that this plot development amps up the level of suspense to nerve-wracking levels. I am just philosophically opposed to the "damsel-in-distress" trope in suspense thrillers. I know it is quite possible to have exciting suspense thrillers without putting the protagonist in danger, although I do recognize that it may be something that most authors can not resist. I just hope that this doesn't happen in every Galloway book or it would greatly diminish my ardor for continuing the series.

That being said, while the third entry in the series was not the strongest of the first three (the connection between the perpetrator of the cold case murder and the perpetrator of the more recent crimes attempting to maintain their secrecy was somewhat tenuous and unpredictable). The main appeal of The House at Sea's End to me was learning more about the other police officers in Nelson's employ and seeing how Ruth deals with how her new circumstances have (and will) affect how she relates to those around her (and they to her).

Title: The House at Sea's End.
Elly Griffiths.
Paperback: 352 pages.
Date Published: January 6, 2011.
Date Read: July 18, 2020.

★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


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