The 19th book to count towards my 2010 Audio book challenge is the first crime novel by this author and I was tempted to read it by this review at Petrona (where Maxine posts what amounts to my personal reading guide)
When some bones are discovered in marshland at Norfolk DCI Harry Nelson calls on the expertise of forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway to date them. Nelson is hoping they are the bones of a child who disappeared 10 years previously in a case that still haunts him. Disappointingly for Harry, though excitingly for Ruth, the bones turn out to be of an Iron Age girl and she is able to initiate a new archaeological dig in the marshes. Based on his assessment that Ruth is smart and probably knowledgeable about the academic references within them Harry asks Ruth to take a look at some taunting letters he received relating to the girl’s disappearance. Before much headway can be made though another young girl goes missing and both Ruth and Harry are caught up in the events.
There are dual standout characters in this book. The first is Ruth Galloway who is simply delightful. When we meet her she is getting ready to go to work as a lecturer at the (fictional) North Norfolk University and we get the first glimpse of her internal monologue
…She answers the ever-present sardonic interviewer in her head. ‘OK, I’m a single woman on my own and I have cats, what’s the big deal? And OK sometimes I do speak to them but I don’t imagine that they answer back and I don’t pretend that I’m any more to them than a convenient food dispenser’
This sets the tone for the lively, funny, clever, brave despite her insecurities character who is revealed over the course of the story. I adored her.
I know there are people who take issue with places being referred to as characters but I’m going to do it anyway because the other strong presence in this book is the marshlands in which most of the action takes place. Ruth lives in an isolated cottage on the edge of the same marshland in which the bones were discovered and on the same morning that we meet her she sits at her kitchen table and looks out the window
Beyond her front garden with its wind-blown grass and broken blue fence there is nothingness; just miles and miles of marshland spotted with stunted gorse bushes and criss crossed with small treacherous streams. Sometimes at this time of year you see great flocks of wild geese wheeling across the sky their feathers turning pink in the rays of the rising sun. But today, on this grey winter morning, there is not a living creature as far as the eye can see. Everything is pale and washed out; grey-green merging to grey-white as the marsh meets the sky. Far off is the sea, a line of darker grey, seagulls riding in on the waves. It is utterly desolate…
This is a landscape perfectly suited for the kind of mystery that unfolds there.
The rest of the characters are intriguing also, though not as substantial as Ruth and the marshland, and include Ruth’s former boyfriend and an old lecturer of hers who were both, along with Ruth, involved in an archaeological dig at about the time the first girl disappeared in the area. Although a surly Northerner without much time for academics, Harry Nelson proves to be an intelligent and sympathetic Officer and his relationship with Ruth becomes one of mutual respect.
Unfortunately the mystery part of this crime fiction is not quite as well-developed as the characters. It wasn’t particularly difficult to spot the culprit early on and there was probably one too many coincidental connections between Harry and Ruth and their respective pasts. But I have to say I forgave this more easily than I normally would do because I was enjoying the experience of meeting these people and being lost in this place. Jane McDowell’s superb narration, in a voice I now think of as Ruth’s, added a wonderful element to this very pleasurable reading experience.
All that remains is to decide whether to buy the second book, The Janus Stone, in print form or wait a little while to see if it is released in audio format. I shan’t be able to wait long.
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My rating 3.5/5
Narrator Jane McDowell; Publisher BBC WW ; ISBN N/A (audio download); Length 8hrs 26mins
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