Elly Griffiths’ sixth novel featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway and friends is very much concerned with the topic of motherhood. In a grim present-day investigation police are looking into the death of a baby, the third of Liz and Bob Donaldson’s young children to have died. Although on the surface there is nothing particularly suspicious with respect to the death, DCI Harry Nelson finds it difficult to believe that in the modern world three children in the one family would all die unexpectedly and he focuses on Liz who was home alone with her son when he died. Meanwhile the university archaeologists are agog at having discovered the bones of an infamous woman known as Mother Hook, a child minder missing a hand who was hanged for the murder of one of her charges in 1867. Ruth and her discovery are to feature in an episode of a TV series called Women Who Kill though the dashing historian working on the show thinks he can prove Mother Hook might not have been what she seemed. If that’s not enough motherhood for you there are two kidnappings of young children from their respective child minders and almost every character is a new(ish) mum overdosing liberally on mummy guilt.
I enjoyed catching up with my old friends Ruth, Harry and Cathbad (yes fans, he does make an appearance) in much the same way as I enjoy catching up with any group of likeable old friends but I’m not sure there’s a lot else to say about this book. One of the things that struck me as I listened to the delightful narration by Clare Corbett is that I could not imagine recommending the book to anyone who hasn’t read the earlier books in the series. If you are not already invested in the existing relationships and characters of this series I’m not sure there is enough here for you.
There’s a lot of action and …stuff…but it’s all a bit chaotic and superficially dealt with as the reader’s attention is drawn to something only to have it whisked away a few pages later. The possible murder of the Donaldson baby generates an unbelievably moderate reaction from most of the constabulary (Harry’s nearest offsider positively chides him for even suggesting something is rotten and I don’t care that she is standing up for the sisterhood or whatever she is meant to be doing: three children from the one family dying separately is worth questioning pretty bloody seriously) while the kidnappings have an unreal feel to them. The historical case is interesting but the diary entries upon which much of it rests are all a bit too…convenient. Though at least the resolution of that thread is in keeping with the rest of it; the other two threads, in particular the one concerning the Donaldson baby, are resolved in ways that don’t really play fair with readers who like to deduce for themselves as they rely on information not provided.
I suspect that all sounds harsher than I mean it to but I just can’t help but think the only people who will enjoy this book are those already well entrenched in the lives of Ruth and the gang. Or perhaps the odd mother feeling the need to wallow in mummy guilt (‘cos the real world doesn’t give her enough of it every day).
It has always been true of this series that the complexity of the criminal investigations (both recent and historical) take a back seat to the relationship dramas and wry observations but the pendulum seems to have swung a bit too far here for me. Especially as some of those observations are more worthy than wry and there’s little that grates on my nerves more than earnest worthiness (yes I accept that says more about the blackness of my own soul than it does about the book). I was happy enough to listen as I drove for a week or so but unless you’re already a die-hard fan I’d start with something earlier in the series.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Clare Corbett
Publisher Quercus Publishing 
Length 9 hours 18 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #6 in the Ruth Galloway series
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