A Dying Fall is the fifth 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. These books are known as the Ruth Galloway mysteries and they are generally cold case murders (Ruth is an archaeologist after all) with a smidgen of romance (the relationship between Ruth and Harry is complicated--they hooked up once and the married police detective is the unacknowledged father of unmarried Ruth's daughter named Kate.)
I read and enjoyed the first four books in the Ruth Galloway series in quick succession (The Crossing Places, The Janus Stone ,The House at Sea's End, A Room Full of Bones) but put the series on a backburner when supernatural elements became a bit too central to the story for my taste in Book 4. (Longtime readers will know I am not a fan of supernatural elements, especially in murder-mysteries, because of the way it revises the implicit contract between author and reader in a whodunnit mystery. (If reality is subject to supernatural revision then how can the reader have a chance of solving the mystery?)
Anyway, the primary appeal of the Galloway books has always been the no-nonsense personalities of Ruth and Nelson, who the reader generally gets first-person perspectives on in every book. The secondary appeal are the rotating cast of secondary characters, primarily Cathbad, the sensitive and strange Druid who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, Ruth’s obnoxious department chair Phil Trent, various police officers who work with Nelson (Judy Johnson, Dave Clough, Tanya Fuller, and his boss Gerry Whitcliffe).
In A Dying Fall an old schoolmate of Ruth’s from university named Dan Golding is killed by setting his house on fire with all the exits locked and blocked, soon after he made what he thought could be a blockbuster archaeological discover in the Lancashire area near where Nelson grew up and used to serve in the Blackpool police department when he was much younger. Ruth decides to go north to Blackpool with her young daughter Kate and Cathbad as guest babysitter after she is invited by Dan’s department chair to serve as an expert evaluator of his potential discovery. Of course, coincidentally Nelson and his wife Michelle decide to take a vacation to his hometown around the same time to go on a long-delayed visit to see Nelson’s mum.
With Nelson and Ruth in the same area when more bodies start appearing there are multiple opportunities for awkward run-ins and suspicious behavior as they both try to solve their respective mysteries. Tensions run even higher when just as their separate investigations cross paths, Kate goes missing, after being left in the care of Cathbad while Ruth was sleuthing.
Overall, this is one of the better entries in the series, which is becoming even more familiar and likeable as I read more of the books. The supernatural elements were kept to a minimum, and primarily involved Cathbad, who is so weird and wacky it’s hard to dislike. I’m pretty sure I won’t wait another 18 months to read the next book, The Outcast Dead!
Author: Elly Griffiths.
Paperback: 400 pages.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Date Published: March 5, 2013.
Date Read: April 23, 2023.
GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★½☆ (4.5/5.0).
OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).
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