Tag Archives: Elly Griffiths

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

I read a good book the other day #15

book jacketDetective mystery with intriguing setting and subject matter. The case concerns the search for a missing child. Not a police procedural, but to me, very realistic and has the ring of truth.

I found The Crossing Places by accident while scrolling through Amazon’s cozy mystery category. There seem to be two sorts of cozy mystery, one characterised by cartoon-ish covers that give the impression the story might be farcical, the other with mainly straight photo covers, like The Crossing Places which is a straight detective-cum-archaeology mystery that will appeal to an adult audience, but qualifies as cozy because it contains no foul language or sex. (Um… I mean explicit sex, not foul sex… though there’s none of that either.)

In the bleak midwinter

The setting is bleak wintertime in a fictional north Norfolk saltmarsh, which sounds on the face of it less than promising. But the story concerns Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist who helps the police with their enquiries (…and there’s a loaded phrase!). Elly Griffiths shows much feeling for place and landscape but pulls no punches, allowing her characters, very realistically in my opinion, to slag off the landscape for which she shows so much affinity and observes carefully. For example, Ruth observes: “In the distance, a heron watches them, standing meditatively on one leg.” That’s exactly what herons do in north Norfolk and we get the impression the author knows of which she speaks. Some characters, however, observe the bleak marshland with a distinctly jaundiced eye and wonder how the blazes Dr Ruth can possibly bear to live there. Townies! Tsk!

Hypocrites all?

I liked the way Elly Griffiths writes interesting and realistic characters. For example, when Ruth is distressed over the death of her cat she hears a doom-laden knock at the door. It is her friend and mentor, Erik, and Ruth thinks, “Thanks be to the God she does not believe in.”

When Ruth describes the national trust as “Sensible women in quilted coats selling souvenirs at castle gates…” she is not being nasty about the sensible women or the National Trust, just voicing a certain view of them that very likely prevails in some circles.

When she tells us that the victim’s garden is “long and untidy, littered with old sofas, broken bicycles and a half constructed climbing frame” she tells us something about that family that might fit a certain ill-conceived prejudice. But then we learn something different about them in the following pages, so that our sympathies are properly restored.

As a bloke of a certain age I particularly liked this observation of modern society: “Although Ruth has often signed petitions in favour of a woman’s right to breast feed in public, in practice she finds it rather embarrassing.” To all of which I can only say, Yeah, me too! With knobs on. Like Dr Ruth, we all of us have ideals that somehow conflict with our real lives. That doesn’t make us all hypocrites, it just shows we are humanly fallible.

But there’s always a niggle…

Just one tiny niggle, an appeal to the publisher’s ebook formatter. In paper books the traditional way of signalling a section break, where the point-of-view character changes, for example, or just where the same character moves on in time or subject of thought, is to leave a one line gap between sections. But in an ebook this is inadequate because the formatter cannot predict where the section break will fall on the page. If it falls at the end of a page, then without some visual signal (a centred asterisk is adequate, three is better) the section break may not be noticed, leaving the reader slightly floundering. The un-indented first line of the new section is not adequate by itself to signal the break. Ergo, every section break in an ebook should be signalled by some visual device. Whoever formatted The Crossing Places for ebook sometimes gets it right and sometimes not. One would have thought ebook formatters (especially those working for trad publishers) would be up to speed on this sort of stuff by now. Maybe the publisher was lazy and just used the paper format without modification for the ebook. Just my personal beef and a handy stick with which we indie writers like to beat the legacy trade over the head. Not a reason to pass over an otherwise good novel that I really enjoyed.

And a surprise…

One surprise for me was the style of writing. I have never been a fan of present tense fiction. Usually it smacks of the writer attempting to inject a sort of breathless immediacy to their prose. (I go to the door. I turn the knob. The door opens. The milkman is asking to be paid…). Just my opinion. YMMV as they say these days. For some reason it always sounds French to me. Do the French always write like that? Not that I have anything against the French, you understand. France and England may have been at each others throats for centuries, but hey, we’ve moved on since Nelson (a namesake in The Crossing Places) clobbered the combined Spanish and French fleets at Trafalgar, and The Iron Duke saw off the dictator Bonaparte at Waterloo. So… um… where was I? Oh, yes, The Crossing Places. Elly Griffiths writes not just present tense, but multiple-point-of-view third person present tense, and I have to say I’m a convert. She pulls it off brilliantly. Personal prejudice shattered, I’ll definitely read more of Elly Griffiths’ third person, multi POV, realistic cozy mystery. A rare 5/5 stars from me. Loved it.