First of all, before I go any further I need to say that this book is fantastic. It has its flaws and (for the die-hard crime fiction readers out there) the solution may not exactly enthral you at the final pages but it is a brilliant read nonetheless.
Elly Griffiths’ debut novel, The Crossing Places, follows the story of Dr Ruth Galloway – an archaeologist in a Norfolk University – who is called by a local police detective, DI Harry Nelson, to help identify bones that he believes belong to the body of a missing girl. However, what seems to be a simple case of identification causes Ruth to become heavily involved in the hunt for the missing girl and, as she helps guide Nelson towards the solution, she finds that the killer is closer to home than she would like to think…
What I love most about this story is that it seamlessly links two of my passions: crime writing and archaeology. Although not an archaeologist herself, Griffiths’ research is close enough to create a realistic character for Ruth – right down to her dislike of Time Team. The comparisons between archaeologists and police detectives are compelling and the chemistry between the two main characters is intriguing and oddly satisfying.
The landscape that Griffiths chooses to set her story on is fascinating as well and is described with such skill that you could quite believe that it exists somewhere in Britain – the mystery itself takes place on a salt marsh dotted with henge monuments, causeways and nature reserves. In fact, to make a direct comparison to another book I have read recently, the setting has a very Woman in Black feel to it which helps add to the haunting nature of the story.
But, as I said before, the story is not without its flaws and, unfortunately, it may be these flaws that turn the seasoned crime fiction reader away from this otherwise faultless book.
In the first instance, the mystery isn’t quite compelling enough. Griffiths works hard to assemble a wide range of suspects for us to ponder on, each with their own peculiar quirks – a druid/wannabe wizard, Ruth’s ex-lover, the girl’s parents, Ruth’s former tutor, Ruth’s best friend, Ruth’s next door neighbours. But, regrettably, the solution to who the culprit is almost seemed to leap off the page at me the moment that character first appeared. This left me feeling rather hard done by for a large portion of the story, particularly when a key piece of evidence is found that points without question to the culprit, and yet Ruth seems to completely brush over this fact in favour of another character who is so obviously a red herring that he may as well have it tattooed on his forehead…
And, as much as I would like to believe it was just luck of the draw – that I happened to be in the right frame of mind to spot the culprit instantly – it would appear that other reviewers also battled with the same problem.
So, in short:
Location, main characters, concept – awesome, brilliant, couldn’t have done better.
Suspects, minor characters, mystery – failed to live up to the rest of the book, but still readable nonetheless.
But, as I said right from the start, this is a great book. Maybe not the most riveting crime read you will ever plunge in to, but it has enough excitement and intrigue to more than satisfy most readers.
I would certainly recommend it – 4/5
The Book Review Rankings
The Crossing Places is a great book to read and kept me enthralled from the first page to last, but it lacked that little bit of mysterious intrigue that I look for in a good read – it jumps in straight at Number 6, knocking The Private Patient out of the top ten.
Here are the latest rankings:
- The Devil’s Detective – Simon Kurt Unsworth
- Time and Time Again – Ben Elton
- And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
- The Murder Bag – Tony Parsons
- The Woman in Black – Susan Hill
- The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
- The Slaughter Man – Tony Parsons
- You – Caroline Kepnes
- Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie
- The House of Silk – Anthony Horowitz
If you have a suggestion for books that might make my Top Ten Mystery/Crime reads, please feel free to comment below and I will see what takes my fancy…