Ostensibly The House at Sea’s End is about the discovery of the bones of six people in an isolated cove on the Norfolk coast, just beneath the house of the local MP whose house is, literally, crumbling into the sea. The bones are old but not ancient, less than one one hundred years old on first inspection, and it transpires they are likely of German origin given the chemicals found within them. These facts fit in with the war-time history of the area. It soon becomes clear that someone doesn’t want the secret of the bones revealed when a journalist who is investigating the find is found dead so official investigators have two mysteries to solve.
But for me the book is less about all this than it is about people. Funny, fearful, loving, sad, conflicted, imperfect ordinary, lovable people. Our heroine Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist with the fictional North Norfolk University and is involved at the outset with the dating of and investigation into the discovery of the bones. This is her first big task, other than routine lecturing duties, since she came back to work from maternity leave and she is struggling with the demands of work and learning how to look after her new baby. Being Ruth she deals with it, at least in part, via an ever-present witty, self-deprecating internal monologue. Above this Ruth’s charm is her credibility: her conflicting hopes for her future and the haphazard way she deals with the strangeness her life throws up make her instinctively likable and someone who ‘the average person’ can identify with.
The hero of the novel, who is taking on an increasingly larger role as the series progresses, is DCI Harry Nelson, the main policeman who Ruth has worked with in all the investigations with which she has been involved. Harry is married to a glamorous hairdresser and in some ways has nothing in common with the overweight, unglamorous Ruth. However they share intellectual interests and they work together in a very complementary way. Harry is perhaps less likable for some, he is very sarcastic (which I happen to love) and his personal choices are not always to be admired but once again I think he’s a very realistic character and I enjoy him almost as much as Ruth.
Some of the minor characters in the series are taking shape nicely too, my favourite of these is the lab worker and practicing Pagan, Cathbad who seems to have appointed himself some kind of personal guardian for the Galloway family. He brings a hint of spirituality to the novel but he’s also quite practical at times and it’s rather delightful watching the relationship between him and Harry develop into something approaching friendship, regardless of how unlikely this might seem to both of them.
If you’re looking for complicated, extremely suspenseful crime fiction you’ll need to look elsewhere. The war-time mystery was pretty straight-forward, though unraveled well, and even the present-day intrigue was be fairly easily solved, though there was misdirection and we had a few tense moments worrying about key characters. The plot itself and the motivations are credible though, even if not terribly taxing for die-hard crime fiction fans. Griffiths has continued giving the books a sense of crime fiction history too, this time by incorporating a simple code to be broken in the form of a list of popular mystery novels (on a note of the “I think publishing might be in trouble” kind I can’t help but make a comment about the proofreading done here though, Omar Yuseff is the protagonist of The Fourth Assassin which was written by Matt Rees).
I read The House at Sea’s End in a single day, cobbling time from chores and family obligations, because I couldn’t not do so. I wanted to savour it slowly and eek out the experience of being surrounded by enjoyable, interesting people but in the end I could not stop until I got to the very end. I am a little sad that I’ll probably have to wait a whole year for another installment but I’m very happy that the book lived up to its predecessors and my own anticipation.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
The House at Sea’s End has been reviewed at Euro Crime
If you are going to read this series I strongly recommend you start at the beginning with The Crossing Places then The Janus Stone (which was one of my top ten reads of last year) (not bad in a year when I finished 162 books).
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4/5
Author website http://www.ellygriffiths.co.uk/
Publisher Quercus 
Length 356 pages
Format trade paperback
Book Series Number 3 in the Ruth Galloway series
Source I bought it