Saturday, May 06, 2023

Elly Griffiths Says Goodbye

Elly Griffiths is the author of fifteen novels about the forensic archaeologist and amateur detective Ruth Galloway. I've now read them all! And I'm disappointed to learn that Griffiths is sunsetting the series -- at least for now. She writes:

"I’ve been so touched by the way that people have taken Ruth to their hearts. At first, I wasn’t sure if readers would take to a slightly grumpy, unglamorous heroine who frankly prefers cats and books to people. But Ruth seemed to touch a chord and I regularly get messages from readers who love her company and that of DCI Nelson, Cathbad the druid and the rest of the cast. This was particularly moving during lockdown when many people told me that Ruth and co. had kept them company through months of isolation. So, when I announced that Book 15 would be the last book (for now), I knew that some devotees would be upset. I wasn’t prepared, though, for the avalanche of messages on social media talking about bereavement and betrayal. ‘I’ll never forgive Elly Griffiths’ was a common line. ‘Please reconsider,’ begged others.

"But I thought it was time for the series to come to an end. ‘For now’, as I kept emphasising. This was my instinct as a writer. There is an on-going ‘will they, won’t they’ love story in the books and, with the best will in the world, there comes a time when you have to say whether they will or they won’t. Readers will find out in Book 15, The Last Remains (the clue is in the title)." (source: Elly Griffiths on Knowing When to Say Goodbye)

I read this farewell statement before I bought the final volume in the series, so I decided to give Ruth (and Elly) a good farewell. Over the last few years I've been enjoying a slow read through all of the novels, though I did not review every one of them on the blog. I read Books 13 and 14 earlier this year. This week, in preparation for the last one, I reread the first Ruth Galloway novel, titled The Crossing Places, and I reread Book 14, titled The Locked Room, which is a remarkable tale of the covid epidemic in the spring of 2020. In retrospect, I loved the way Book 1 introduced so many of the characters that appeared repeatedly in the series, especially the very eccentric Druid whose nom-de-guerre is Cathbad.

Both times I read The Locked Room I found myself reliving the eerie experience of lockdown and the knowledge that hundreds of people were dying of the new, dangerous virus while everyday chores such as shopping and cooking became more and more difficult, and seeing anyone outside one's household was unpardonable and dangerous. Griffiths really captured that in the experience of Ruth, while still creating a suspenseful plot. As in all the books, I find the central characters colorful, the guilty criminals often satisfyingly creepy, and all entirely enjoyable to read. The setting of Ruth’s life in the marshes near King’s Lynn, England, is always leveraged in imaginative ways, as well as the academic setting where she works, with its department politics and various good and evil characters, and the technical and human details of her work as a hands-on archaeologist.

This statue of a civic hero in Ruth’s town of King’s Lynn was enhanced
(or in some opinions, defaced) by the famous street artist Banksy in 2021.
The city fathers quickly removed Banksy’s addition. Ruth’s town in the news!

Unlike many detective and police series where the characters never age or change much (they just solve one crime after another), it’s an interesting feature that Ruth Galloway ages one year for each book, as does her daughter Kate, who is born in Book 2 and goes through the baby, toddler, early schoolchild, and now early adolescence stages. In The Locked Room, Ruth’s experience being shut in with Kate and having to home-school her while continuing her own university teaching job struck me as especially real and pressing. The near-death covid experience with one of the main characters (whom I won’t spoil the book by naming) was also very emotional and beautifully written.

The Last Remains, Book 15, is for now the last Ruth Galloway book. I found that it maintained the excellent quality of plot, characters, local color, and suspense that kept me reading throughout the series. Each of the books advances Ruth’s relationships with the other characters, especially her very insecure romance with Harry Nelson, the policeman who investigates the crimes central to each plot, and who is also the father of Ruth’s daughter Kate.

In reading this last book, I also appreciated the character of Tony, a newer policeman in Harry Nelson’s department. Tony is Asian, and in the course of the investigation he visits his family home. When his mother, Min, offers him supper, he considers her cooking, and how it doesn’t meet the expectations of his peers who have always stereotyped him:

“‘I bet your mum’s a great cook,’ is one of the less offensive things people say to Tony. But, in truth, Min has never been keen on the labour-intensive dishes of her native Guangdong province. She was quick to embrace convenience foods, especially when she was training to be a nurse. Hao, Tony’s dad, was a better cook and, at weekends, would produce slow-boiled soup and shahe noodles.” (Book 15, p. 89)

Ruth, in contrast, is a bit stereotyped in her allergy to domesticity, and her workmanlike approach to chores like cooking. At one point, Nelson for the first time spends an afternoon and evening at her house with Kate, Nelon’s dog Bruno, and Ruth’s cat Flint:

“They are sitting in the garden, Nelson with a beer and Ruth with a glass of red wine. Kate is upstairs in her room. Bruno is lying panting on the grass. Flint is watching from the lower branches of the apple tree, looking like the Cheshire Cat. It’s domestic bliss, of a sort. There’s even a casserole in the oven. Lancashire hotpot. Ruth took the recipe from a packet of stock cubes. She hopes Nelson will appreciate the northern connection.” (p.139) 

Nelson loves real British cooking, which he has always received from his wife Michelle. Here’s how he reacts when she has just come home from a stay at her mother’s house, and he enters to be greeted by Bruno the dog:

“But it’s not just the canine welcome that stops Nelson on the doormat. It’s the smell. Nelson is suddenly catapulted back through the years, a feeling that is both pleasurable and slightly dizzying. He’s a teenager coming home from football practice, he’s a DS in Blackpool and he can hear his children’s voices in the garden, he’s older but not much wiser, returning from a crime scene in King’s Lynn. All these memories are linked to the fact that someone inside the house is cooking shepherd’s pie.” (p. 274)

At an earlier point in The Last Remains Nelson and his wife, their adult daughters, and their very young son George go out for a Father’s Day dinner to an upscale trendy restaurant: I enjoyed the description of his reaction to the meal:

“Lunch seems to go on for ever. Nelson orders things almost at random but, when they arrive, they are unrecognisable, swimming in green sauce or arranged in a tower with berries on top. The girls say it’s delicious. So does Michelle although Nelson notes that she doesn’t eat much. George demands chips but the nearest thing the restaurant can provide are thin wafery things that, according to George, taste of poo. Nelson tries one and agrees with his son. He can’t be entirely sure that they’re not beetroot.” (p. 226)

I love the way Elly Griffiths uses food to portray the characters in these and numerous other snippets from her books! 

If you haven’t read the Ruth Galloway books, and if you like well-crafted mysteries, I recommend that you try them. I advise you to start at the beginning and read in order, because there’s really a lot character and relationship development in the stories. And until Elly Griffiths changes her mind and writes another book, we have to be satisfied that Ruth and Nelson’s relationship has reached a final point after all the many years of uncertainty.

Blog post © 2023 mae sander


DVArtist said...

I've never read any of these. However, it's always a let down when a series ends.

Bellezza said...

I first read Ella Griffith when one of her books was listed for the Edgar Award a few years ago. Do you read the list for that? It always comes approximately when the long list for the International Booker Prize is revealed, so I never get to the Edgar nominees straight away, but it is a good list to refer to if you like mysteries. Which I do, very much! Thanks for highlighting her in this post as there is much of her work (most!) I haven’t read, but I really liked the one I did read.

anno said...

I was so sad to hear that this series was ending -- although I can appreciate that managing the ebb and flow of Ruth's relationship with Nelson might have become a little wearying -- that I'm trying to delay reading this latest (last) as long as possible. I always learned a lot, and I enjoyed the cast of characters. Griffith's series about Harbinda (?) Kaur is fun as well.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I'd never even heard of Elly Griffiths. It sounds like I've missed a LOT.

Iris Flavia said...

Don´t. ;-)
I love the series "Castle" and this seems to be just like that!
But I have sooo many books in row already!

Sami said...

I haven't read any of her books, but they sound interesting.
Thanks for participating in Monday Murals Mae.

Elza Reads said...

Hi Mae!

I've heard of the Elly Griffiths series, but I actually haven't read any of the books. Now I actually really want to... Of to Goodreads I go.

Lovely post Mae.

Elza Reads

Literary Feline said...

I haven't yet read this series and it's been recommended to me before. I just haven't managed it yet. I want to read it even more after reading your thoughts here. Thank you for sharing!

Jeanie said...

I love this series and this is a wonderful farewell. I just finished "The Locked Room," as you know, and it may have been one of my favorites in the series for all the reasons you outlined here. And you're right -- her plots have never wavered. Always a good mystery wrapped in wonderful, well written characters. I know she has written other series and when I read this one and close the book (I hope not forever, but it sounds likely), I may give them a try. Thanks for this. Elly G. would be pleased.

Claudia said...

Good review of both the series and book Mae. I didn't realize she was ending it, and hadn't read the last two, which I can do now with a bit of sadness that there'll be no more. Maybe?