Tuesday, 15 February 2011
The House at Sea's End - Elly Griffiths
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.