Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The House at Sea's End - Elly Griffiths

The House at Sea's End is the third of Elly Griffiths' crime novels about forensic archeologist, Ruth Galloway. I love Ruth, she is everything a female crime hero 'shouldn't' be, forty, single, overweight and, in this book, the mother of newly born Kate, who promises to be every bit as much of a character as Ruth is.

This time Ruth is called in to examine a burial uncovered by her team beneath a rockfall on an isolated Norfolk beach. As she excavates the bones it becomes apparent that she has not one, but six victims of what appears to be a war-time execution. Inevitably, the police are called in and DCI Nelson is forced to consider the possibility that not only were there war crimes committed in this very small and now rapidly vanishing village seventy years ago, but that there might also still be someone alive who is prepared to kill to make sure that the truth is never revealed.

The theme of war crimes is explored further through the visit of Ruth's old friend of Bosnian extraction, Tatjana. Tatjana is still trying to come to terms with the loss of her own child and his grandparents and in exploring that story Ruth learns more about her own feelings on having become a mother and what Kate's presence is going to mean in her life. The two narrative are woven together very well and complement each other rather than feeling contrived as might so easily be the case.

But then that wouldn't happen with a writer of Griffiths talent, would it? With every novel she becomes more and more adept. Her plots stand up, her characters are wonderful creations and completely real, and above all she has the most original narrative voice I've encountered in years. Writing in third person present tense Griffiths' narrator stands slightly back from the action and offers a wry commentary on everything that is going on. The temptation is to think that it is in some way Ruth's voice, but the narrator is there when she isn't. Whoever it is, I'm rather glad they aren't always around to observe some of my follies. Here is Ruth coming home to Kate and to her friend, Shona, who has been looking after her.

Ruth looks at Shona, who is still holding Kate and looking pleased with herself.

'We've been up for ages,' she says. 'I got Kate dressed and gave her a bottle. We've been playing.'

Of the two, Kate looks the better for the experience. She is bright-eyed and bursting with energy. Shona has, in fact, dressed her in pyjamas and a jumper that is two sizes too big but she is overcoming these sartorial disadvantages with aplomb. She takes Ruth's phone and bites it, experimentally. Shona on the other hand, looks pale and bleary-eyed, her hair is unbrushed and her skirt is on inside out. But she is obviously pleased with herself for having survived the night. Pg 192

And she turns the English language superbly.

'Can I get you a drink?' asks Hastings, shrugging off his coat. 'Tea? Coffee? Something stronger? Keep out the cold?'

'I'm driving.' says Nelson. 'Coffee would be grand.'

Ruth would love 'something stronger' but she feels sure that Nelson would disapprove. Not only will she be driving later but she is also going to be operating a heavy baby. 'Coffee would be lovely,' she says. Pg 69

It is wonderful to watch a writer grow, as Griffiths is doing, book by book in the mastery of her craft. I can't recommend her books too highly, but, as I so often find myself saying, if you haven't read the first two you really ought to go back to the beginning. Once you've read one you're going to want to read the others anyway so save yourself the trouble and begin at the beginning.



  1. Hello Annie,

    What a great recommendation! I have never come across this author before, but it sounds like just my kind of book.

    I all too often make the mistake of starting a series of books somewhere in the middle, purely because of the way they are stored on my TBR shelves.

    I find that very often these books perform well as stand-alone stories, although quite often it takes a while to catch up with the developing personal circumstances of the lead, so I will take your advice on this one and start at the beginning.


  2. I started the first book in the series, but I was put off by the present tense and put it down again. But now I'm reading so much good about the series that I might just give it another chance. Maybe if I hang on just a little longer I'll be caught up in the story and the characters and either get used to the style or notice it less.

  3. Yvonne, I'm sure you will love these. Griffiths is one of the most subtly original new voices on the crime scenes for ages. And, you're right about the stand alone issue. The crime here is complete, but there are so many back references not only to personal circumstances, but also to previous cases that the only way to really appreciate the series is in order.

    Fleur, I have a natural antipathy to present tense fiction and so I was wary to start with as well, but this narrator has become so attractive I'm completely hooked. Do give them another go.

  4. The main character does sound intriguing and likable. For me, the enjoyment of mysteries often comes down to how well I like the characters, so I might well enjoy this one.

  5. Dorothy, I'm sure you'd love Ruth. She sees the world from such a refreshing standpoint.

  6. I loved the first book and have the second in my pile. It's good to know the books just keep getting better. Strangely I didn't even catch on at first that it was written in third person present--I think I was too wrapped up in the story!

  7. Danielle, I'm jealous. I know I can go back and re-read whenever I want to, but you still have the pleasure of enjoying the second and third for the first time. I think the narrative voice becomes more pronounced as Griffiths becomes more confident with it. I certainly noticed it more in the second book than I had in the first.

  8. I love this series & I can't wait to get my hands on this new one. I agree with you that Griffiths is one of the best new crime writers in ages. Ruth & Harry are wonderful characters. Thanks for the review.

  9. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Lyn. The only problem now is having to wait for the next one.

  10. Oh boy, another new mystery series to start!! I think I'll let Maisie Dobbs settle a bit, but I will definitely add this author to my list.

  11. You'll find this very different in many respects from Maisie, Becca, but the main characters are both women trying to come to terms with living in a world that doesn't quite accept or respect the choices they have made. I think you'll love Ruth.

  12. I love Ellt Griffiths! I have read the first two and they were in my top 10 reads of last year! I haven't read this one yet but must get round to it soon. I interviewed Elly Griffiths on my blog last year too and she was lovely.

  13. BW, I think Griffiths is the most original voice in crime fiction at the moment. I am always top of the library reservation list for anything new by her.