Review: The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

My reading fairy godmother sent me her copy of this book several months ago and yesterday, as I remembered how much humour there had been in the first book, I decided it was time for a laugh.

Having thoroughly enjoyed Elly Griffiths’ first novel in this series, The Crossing Places, about six months ago I looked upon this second novel with an equal mixture of delicious anticipation and ‘second book trepidation’. Thankfully the trepidation was unnecessary as the book is a delight.

The story is told in the present tense which is an unusual choice but it suits the pacing and two strong voices from whose perspective the story unfolds. The first of these is Ruth Galloway, head of forensic archaeology at the fictional North Norfolk University, who occasionally becomes involved in police investigations which require her expertise. Here she is called in when some bones are discovered on the site of an old house which is being turned into what the developer calls 75 luxury apartments and the rest of us would probably call dog boxes. Ruth is simply wonderful. Her intelligence, personal strength and lack of political correctness shine through her actions and her ever-present internal monologue. Although she can be acerbic she can also be gentle, kind and even a little fragile and these different facets of her personality are all depicted realistically. There is a significant element of her personal life that has continued from the previous book which is expanded with heart and humour here but I’m not going to share any more details in case you haven’t yet read The Crossing Places.

The other major voice of this story is DCI Harry Nelson who appeared in the first book but seemed to me to have more presence in this story. He too is an engaging, realistic character. He loves his job, his wife and his two teenage daughters and he respects and admires Ruth. At one point he reflects on his different capacities for forming relationships with men and women which provides a good example of the way Griffiths manages to quickly but cleverly reveal a lot about the people and places she writes about.

I guess it is one of those first-world problems that I should feel guilty for even raising but the page-long description of the play that several of the characters attend was only one of the passages in the book that made me laugh out loud (I have sat through more than my share of equally pretentious twaddle in my time). It begins

The play is as bad as Nelson fears. A man in a mask appears in front of the curtain and drones on about January. Then he puts on another mask and drones on about lottery choices and whatnot. At least this reminds Nelson that he hasn’t bought his ticket for Wednesday’s draw yet. Then the curtain goes up and there are these people in togas having an orgy, only they can’t have much of one because the production obviously can’t stretch to more than four actors.

The book is full of such wry, observational humour.

I have hardly touched on the story itself which was an enthralling tale involving missing children, loyalty, family and secrets. The many historical and archaeological details are incorporated seamlessly and enrich the story while the cast of characters that support Ruth and Harry offer terrific depth in terms of perspective and variety.  In short, there’s not much I didn’t like about The Janus Stone and can even forgive it for including one of my pet peeves, passages in italics which depict a killer’s voice, as these are few and mercifully short.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The Janus Stone has been reviewed by my aforementioned godmother at Petrona who was equally circumspect as I have been in sharing details of events from the first book. It’s also been reviewed at DJ’s Krimiblog and Euro Crime (Rik and Pat) but from these you might learn more than you wanted to know about the first book.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 4.5/5
Publisher Quercus [2010]
ISBN 9781849161589
Length 327 pages
Format hardcover
Source my reading fairy godmother

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16 Responses to Review: The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

  1. Jose Ignacio says:

    Excellent review Bernadette.


  2. kathy durkin says:

    I loved this book, too. Not even for the plot so much, as for the character, Ruth Galloway, a non-glamorous, non-action figure, i.e., a real woman of a certain age. You captured it. I actually broke down and purchased this from the Book Depository as I didn’t want to wait a year for it over here in the states. I loaned it to a friend who is going for her graduate degree in archaeology; she loved it, too. So I’ll pass it around (one of the pluses of having actual books) and share it. (And I agree about disliking the perpetrator’s asides, in quotes or not, but I didn’t even remember that, so it’s fairly inconsequential. Why any writer or editor wants it in is beyond me, but that’s another story.) A wonderful book. Great for a holiday gift or the set.


  3. I agree Kathy, Ruth is enough reason to read these books. Happily there is a third one due next year, though I suspect that’ll mean another trip to book depository for both of us.


  4. kathy durkin says:

    Yippee! We’ll meet Ruth Galloway again. Yes, indeed, another trip to the Book Depository, which I’m afraid (for my budget) will be visited by me for the holidays as will Amazon.


  5. maxine says:

    I’m so glad you liked this, Bernadette, as I always feel somewhat trepidatious about recommending books just in case the person I recommended to hates them!

    I loved this book too – I think the characters of Ruth and Harry (who is so much a type over here!) really make this series.

    I have actually just read the third in the series but it is an advance proof which I have been loaned so have to return to my kind lender, otherwise I’d offer to send it. Sorry about that- but it definitely keeps to the high series standard, in my opinion, you’ll be pleased to know!


  6. Bernadette – Thanks for this excellent review. I really am glad you liked this one as much as you did. Very often, using the present tense doesn’t work very well for novels, but in this case, it does. So, as you say, does the humour. And Ruth Galloway is a terrific protagonist. Griffiths definitely got it right.


  7. I am jealous Maxine but there’s no need to apologise for not sending the book. I have already noticed the pre-order is available from book depository so I shall be receiving number 3 relatively quickly anyway 🙂


  8. maxine says:

    Enjoy, Bernadette!


  9. kathy durkin says:

    Thanks for the information. I, too, visited the Book Depository and pre-ordered this…only 47 days left.


  10. Dorte H says:

    What I remember about this one is not the humour, but excellent characters and a terrific mystery. I´d better remember to put her third book on my Christmas wish list. My daughter might think it´s a suitable gift for me (so she can snatch it after I´ve finished it).


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