Some kind soul at Houghton Mifflin sent me a copy of THE CROSSING PLACES by Elly Griffiths. This was such a compelling read that I stayed up late for three nights trying to squeeze in more chapters . . . and that's my favorite kind of book. The amateur sleuth here is English archeologist Ruth Galloway, an almost-forty, likable loner who lives in a small house on the Saltmarsh, a remote area of England where Ruth is not unlikely to find the occasional treasure from the Iron Age, preserved in the marsh for thousands of years. It's a perfect location for Ruth, who loves history and the thought of ancient worlds.
Ruth is drawn into a mystery when bones are found in the marsh and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson asks Ruth to look at them in hopes that she can determine if the victim died in the Iron Age or in the present day. If it is the latter, Nelson will have to investigate a murder. Nelson also wonders if the bones could belong to a little girl who went missing ten years before.
Ruth Galloway rises to the occasion and finds herself fascinated, not only by the bones, but by the process of the police investigation, and even by the Chief Inspector himself. Slowly but inexorably she becomes a part of the investigation until she is surprised to find that her life is in danger and that suddenly her lovely marshland home feels alive with anonymous threats.
Griffiths' Saltmarsh (a fictional location) is just as gray and moody as Conan Doyle's marshy Dartmoor setting in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, and in both cases the setting is crucial to the mystery.
What is special about Griffiths' setting, though, is that the marsh, described as "not quite earth, not quite sea," is the perfect metaphor for the transience of life--something Ruth understands better than most, because her profession requires her to ponder that reality every day.
Ruth Galloway is a strong, funny, and wise character who will earn many readers for what I hope will be a Saltmarsh series.