Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

The area of King's Lynn, England, where the action of The Janus Stone takes place.
I toured that area once, with friends, which makes the novel that much more fun to read!

The Janus Stone, published 2010.

The Janus Stone is the second novel in Elly Griffiths' series of mysteries about forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway and her adventures as an amateur detective and helper of the police. I read the first one a few months ago (briefly blogged here), and I guess I'm hooked!

The setting of The Janus Stone is a variety of picturesque, rural villages near King's Lynn, England. This area has been inhabited for millennia, including iron age people, Roman settlements, and continuous occupation until the present. So archaeologists have lots to excavate -- and forensic archaeologists like Ruth are challenged when mysterious bodies appear, because they could turn out to date from recent times (and thus be candidates for a murder investigation) or from any of the earlier eras. 

Of course that's what's going on in the novel: a body must be identified, and connected to events in the past. Ruth Galloway and her fellow anthropologists and police investigators figure it out, with much drama and with lots of perilous moments for Ruth.

I enjoyed the portrayal of the little villages and their inhabitants, streets, museums, and especially life in pubs and other public places: villages "heavy on antique shops and low on fast-food outlets." (p. 57). 

Ruth and the police, as they investigate the mystery, encounter rich people, middle class people, and marginal people. Ruth's friends include many academics -- tenured and not-so-stably employed -- who work with her in the university where she teaches. Showing who they are with just a few words is a strong point of the author. Some quotes about the people, including, sometimes, what they ate:

  • Nelson, the policeman at the center of the investigation: "All those smug yuppies will soon be saddled with negative equity and serve them right. His own house is mortgaged up to the hilt, of course, but that doesn’t bother him. Nelson was brought up in a council house. For him, a mortgage is a sign of respectability."(pp. 56-57).
  • Ruth and her friend Shona choosing a restaurant: "Shona would want to eat in King’s Lynn, somewhere where she can be sure of extra virgin olive oil and ciabatta. Ruth fancies something a little more rustic. Suddenly, a vision of the Phoenix [a more rural pub] comes into her head— the smell of chicken cooking on the outdoor grill, the view over the hills, the clink of glasses and the hum of conversation." (pp. 158-159).
  • Max, another anthropologist, cooks for Ruth at his temporary home, a boat: "He disappears below to check on the food which, when it appears, is absolutely delicious— chicken in red wine, saffron rice, green salad. ‘You really can cook,’ says Ruth, smiling." (p. 148). 
  • Nelson, visiting the home of Spens, a rich property developer: "Spens ushers him through to the kitchen, which is at the back of the house with windows opening onto the garden. Michelle [Nelson's wife] would die of envy if she saw this kitchen, thinks Nelson. Everything is perfect; from the gleaming surfaces, to the yellow roses on the table, to the blue cushions on the wicker sofa (sofas in the kitchen— that would never happen in Blackpool), to the expensive Italian coffee machine chugging away in the corner." (p. 182). 
  • Judy Johnson, one of the police investigators, preparing for an interview: "At nine o’clock sharp, full of a Full English Breakfast, Judy Johnson presents herself at the convent." (p. 256).
  • Nelson again: "Nelson once spent a holiday in Southport. Long, wet walks along the seafront, a B and B where you got one slice of toast for breakfast and weren’t allowed to touch any of the thousands of knick-knacks grinning evilly from the shelves." (p. 259).
  • Another policeman: "Detective Sergeant David Clough is eating. Nothing new in that. Clough eats almost constantly throughout the working day, starting with a McDonald’s breakfast, moving on through several Mars Bars and a Pot Noodle for lunch, through a sustaining sandwich and cake at tea time before treating himself to a pint and a curry for supper." (p. 292)

This is a fast-paced novel, with suspense and danger and many details about the complicated personal lives of the characters. While details about history and pre-history are invented for purposes of the novel, the overall historic setting appears to be accurate. It's fun and a fast read!

As I indicated, I was once there, briefly, while with friends who were following an itinerary of places that appeared in Dorothy Sayers' novels. I remember the high points of the area. The Guardian had this to say about the town:
"Were King’s Lynn anywhere else in the country but squelched into the remoter end of the Fens, it would be overrun with tourists. ... The wealth of the north Norfolk coast is tantalisingly near, but not quite near enough. That relative remoteness today (I mean, it’s only just over an hour to Cambridge, so it’s hardly Siberia, is it?) has bred an independent spirit: there’s some great local culture behind those pedimented porticoes, and a fair bit of money has been spent on sprucing up the place. Geography favoured King’s Lynn hundreds of years ago, before trade shifted to the Atlantic. That’s why it’s so beautiful today, all cobbles, alleys and warehouses. King’s Lynn was once the biggest port in the country, and its merchants flashed their cash on those 18th-century townhouses. Maybe fortune will smile on it again some day."

Maybe it's just a perfect place as a setting for mystery stories. 

Review © 2021 mae sander.


Pam said...

I like descriptive novels of surroundings, people, food, etc. This one sounds interesting, but think I'll go back to the first one and start there. Thanks for another good review!

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

sounds really good. I have heard a lot about her other series: The Stranger Diaries (Harbinder Kaur #1). Have you read this one? did you like it?

Lowcarb team member said...

Many thanks for this review ...

All the best Jan

My name is Erika. said...

I love this series, especially as it progresses. And I am glad someone else, besides me, looks up places on maps too. Will you read more of this series?

Tandy | Lavender and Lime (http://tandysinclair.com) said...

What a coincidence, we've just looked at staying there in June. We are watching a series on the history of food and Mars features in it. Great review, thanks for sharing.

Iris Flavia said...

Oh, I love reading about places I´d been in reality!
There are several about my town and weee. Scary "fun" (well, some are real and sad).

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

It is fun to read about places that you have visited. I have never been to England but the mysteries sound like they would make a nice relaxing read.

Divers and Sundry said...

Sounds fascinating. Thanks for the quotes. It gives a good sense of the style.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm always jealous of people who are just starting great, addictive series. I just read the latest and already can't wait for the next. It is so welcome to have a protagonist who is not young, skinny, conventionally gorgeous, etc. And yet, Ruth is so likable - imagine that! LOL

Jinjer-The Intrepid Angeleno said...

Thank you so much for posting snippets from the book. I think I like the author's writing style very much and will check out this series. I think I already love the characters from the little bits you've shared.