Thursday, October 15, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: A Room Full of Bones (Ruth Galloway, #4) by Elly Griffiths

 A Room Full of Bones is the fourth book in author Elly Griffiths' murder-mystery series starring Dr. Ruth Galloway, head of Forensic Archaeology at the University of Northern Norfolk and DCI Harry Nelson, head of the major crimes squad of the Norfolk Police Department.

This book is a bit unusual in the murder-mystery genre because the putative main character, Ruth Galloway, is almost a supporting character in A Room Full of Bones. The primary mysteries in the plot involve the death of a young museum director whose body Ruth discovers collapsed near a recently-unearthed coffin containing the skeleton of a centuries-old Bishop as well as the suspicious death of the young man’s boss (and the owner of the museum and a prominent racing horse stable) a few days later.

Ruth’s relationships and domestic circumstances have been key to the plot of the first three books in the series (
The Crossing PlacesThe Janus Stone ,The House at Sea's End), often being detailed in parallel to the mysteries as she investigates the discovery of old bones and/or new corpses. However, in A Room Full of Bones Ruth has almost no role in the solution of either of the central mysteries and neither does Nelson.

Instead, it’s the supporting characters from the earlier books, namely DS Judy Johnson and Cathbad, who lead the reader to the solution of the mysteries, while Nelson is out of commission for a significant fraction of the book and Ruth’s primary responsibility is being a caring mother to her now 1-year old daughter Kate.

It’s a curious, confident choice by the author, and (surprisingly) it works really well. To me this book is no less interesting and compelling than the prior books, and Ruth is still the protagonist. What is becoming clearer is that these books are not just about the mysteries but are really serials about the cast of characters who are involved in investigating them. Another curious choice by Griffiths is the explicit inclusion of supernatural elements into the story, through a “curse” deployed by an Indigenous Australian character and Cathbad’s drug-induced foray into “dream walking.” I am typically quite negatively disposed towards the inclusion of supernatural elements in the murder-mystery, police procedural books I read. (If “magic” is real then how can the reader have any chance of solving the mystery if characters can defy the laws of reality whenever they want?) But Griffiths makes it clear that there’s a plausible non-supernatural explanation for the supernatural interlude in such a straightforward way that I was actually fine with how things played out in the book. (I am quite surprised by this myself!)

Overall, A Room Full of Bones is an enjoyable, light mystery novel where the interactions and relationships (both new and old) between the characters is the main attraction. This entry has made me very intrigued to learn how the series develops in the future, especially since at this point there are at least 8 more books that I haven’t read yet. So, in that very basic sense (convincing the reader they want to find out what happens next), A Room Full of Bones is a success.

Title: A Room Full of Bones.
Elly Griffiths.
Paperback: 352 pages.
Date Published: December 21, 2011.
Date Read: September 10, 2020.

★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).


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