In the fourth book to feature forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway the mystery starts early on. Ruth has been asked to attend a local museum for the opening of a coffin which was found at a construction site and is thought to contain the remains of a medieval Bishop. She arrives to find the museum’s curator lying on the floor. Not being certain if the man is alive or not she phones an ambulance and the police. The man is pronounced dead on his arrival at hospital and the police investigation steps up a notch which introduces DI Harry Nelson to the action.
Of course anyone who has read the previous novels in this serious would have been waiting for this meeting as Ruth and Harry have a personal history which was left at a rather dramatic point at the end of The House at Sea’s End. I’m trying not to give spoilers to this or previous books so I won’t say much more, other than to reflect that I thought Griffiths did a good job of capturing the awkwardness realistically. She’s also done a good job of encapsulating the essence of the personal lives of Ruth, Harry and their friends and colleagues so this would be a decent place to start the series if you are interested in trying it out but don’t feel you have the time or energy to read the three earlier books.
The mystery element in this novel is stronger than has been the case in the previous novels which, while entertaining, were all fairly easy to stay ahead of, especially for seasoned crime readers. Here there are several threads that need to be sorted out including the very basic question of whether or not the museum curator was murdered or not. There do prove to be two potential motives including a possible connection to claims being made for the repatriation of Australian Aboriginal bones and skulls in the museum’s custody. Ruth’s old friend Cathbad is a member of a group which has requested the items be returned to Australia for a proper burial, as is her new next door neighbour who is an academic visiting from Australia. He is also a member of the same tribal group to which the bones belong so he has a personal stake in the repatriation of the items. The issue of such repatriation is becoming increasingly vitriolic in the real world but Griffiths handled its complexity and sensitivity well. In particular Ruth’s needing time to weigh up the pros and cons on a personal and professional level rang very true. I’m always a little wary of ‘foreign’ books which throw in Australian characters or tackle other subjects I am familiar with but Elly Griffiths has done well on both counts here.
It’s fair to say that most fans of this series are at least as interested in the personal stories of Ruth, Harry and friends as they are in the whodunnit aspects of the books and those fans will not be disappointed with this instalment. Ruth’s daughter has her first birthday in this book but Ruth still frets about her mothering skills and seems a little preoccupied at times so she is not quite the dominant character in this book as she has been in the past and Harry’s dry humour is also quiet for a while when he undergoes a particularly nasty trauma. While I did miss the presence of my favourite two people a little, there were many developments in the lives of the lesser characters to keep me interested. I have quite a soft spot for Cathbad who is a lab technician at Ruth’s university but is also a Druid and seems willing to participate in any vaguely spiritual ritual he thinks suitable for a given situation which often has unforseen circumstances.
I look forward with much anticipation to the arrival on my doorstep of the annual instalment of this series and, once again, the reading experience lived up to my expectations, providing a very enjoyable and satisfying read with just a hint of what might happen in the next book.. I read A ROOM FULL OF BONES in a single day (again the housework was neglected) and had a very contented smile on my face upon completion, you can’t ask for better than that.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
A Room Full of Bones has been reviewed at Euro Crime
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3.5/5
Publisher Quercus 
Length 344 pages
Format trade paperback
Book Series #4 in the Ruth Galloway series
Source I bought it
This work by http://reactionstoreading.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.