Continuing with my reviews of books written by authors attending the upcoming Bouchercon in Albany, I am posting my thoughts on Elly Griffith's first Ruth Galloway novel, The Crossing Places and Lindsay Faye's Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson.
The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The only reason that I'm not kicking myself for having not started to read this series before now is that I am experiencing the thrill of a newly discovered favorite series. Nothing is sweeter in reading than that first kiss of what you know is going to be a special reading adventure. Elly Griffiths has been on my reading radar for ages, and thanks to her appearance at the upcoming Bouchercon Mystery Convention, I am finally beginning the Ruth Galloway series.
Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist living in a remote saltmarsh area of Norfolk, England. Her teaching duties at the local university, her friends, and her two cats provide a satisfying life for her. Approaching the age of 40 and being slightly overweight are the only two issues that trouble her much. All that changes when bones are discovered in the saltmarshes by her home, and Ruth, a bone forensic/preservation expert, is called on by Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson to examine those bones. Nelson is hoping that the bones belong to a child who went missing ten years ago, hoping to bring closure to the case and the girl's parents. However, although the bones to belong to a child, that child is from the Iron Age of British history. Nelson is disheartened, and Ruth doesn't expect to see him again. Then, a second little girl is abducted, and Nelson again involves Ruth to peruse letters sent to him over the course of both missing girls' investigations, letters with references that Ruth might understand from her professional viewpoint. Before long, a connection between the two disappearances and local archeological discoveries, both past and present, begins to surface. Ruth struggles to make sense of it all, as old friends and new add to the confusion of false perceptions and reality. Nelson, whom Ruth never expected to even see again, becomes an integral part of her world. From her isolated saltmarsh home and shell of self-sufficiency, Ruth Galloway bursts into the world as a crucial link between life and death.
Elly Griffiths creates suspense that is cringe-worthy, that delicious and tormented feeling of wanting to close your eyes at what's coming, but being unable to look away. Atmosphere abounds, and you savor it. She is one of those master storytellers who create the perfect ebb and flow. The character of Ruth Galloway is one I've been waiting for, flaws with which I can identify and strengths that are much admired. Her contrast to Harry Nelson creates a wonderful yin to yang. All the characters are interesting, well-developed attributes of the story. The plot is filled with twists and turns and a few red herrings that unite into a fascinatingly scary tale. I finished the book and immediately ordered the rest of the series thus far published. I'm now like a kid looking for a Christmas package to arrive. Ah!
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Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Talk about ambitious. Lyndsay Faye chose to tackle both Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes in her debut novel, Dust and Shadow. This novel is certainly not the first pastiche of Holmes, and it is not the first novel to deal with the infamous Ripper. What a challenging task Faye set for herself. The good news is that she passed with flying colors. She was able to achieve the voice and style of Arthur Conan Doyle, and she was able to create a fresh, absorbing story of the nefarious deeds of London's notorious killer. The fall of 1888 was one of terror for the residents of the Whitechapel area of London, with women who depended on the streets for their livelihood in fear for their lives by the Knife, as Jack the Ripper was also called.
Lyndsay Faye is an author who can do characters well. She presents the familiar cast of Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, and Mycroft Holmes with a precision that Doyle himself would approve. And, then she delightfully adds characters such as Mary Ann Monk, a friend of the Ripper's earliest victim, whom Holmes employs as his eyes and ears around Whitechapel; Stephen Dunlevy, a man who pretends to be a soldier and whose role must be ferreted out by the great detective; and Leslie Tavistock, a journalist who will do or write whatever gets him the most attention, abundantly skirting the truth. Then there is the character of Jack the Ripper, who must remain a shadow, but a shadow with distinguishable, observable traits. The author makes each character come alive, no small feat.
So, we have the story of Jack the Ripper being pursued by Sherlock Holmes, with the aid of Dr. Watson. It is every bit as exciting an adventure as such a story should be. What the reader might not expect is that the identity of Jack the Ripper is revealed, or at least a plausible identity that fits with the story and Holmes' powers of deduction. Each murdered woman is an escalation of the Ripper's madness, and Scotland Yard's Inspector Lestrade is depending on Sherlock Holmes to solve his most important case ever. Of course, the path to resolution is frustrated by a lack of evidence left at the murder scenes, and Holmes must even contend with suspicion being cast upon his own innocence. One of the ways I think the author helps readers place themselves so intensely into the action is the placement of a map of Whitechapel in the front of the book. I found myself referring to this map quite a lot, which aided me in picturing the movements of the Ripper and those who pursue him.
It's hard to believe that this novel is the author's first. I'm looking forward to reading her second novel, Gods of Gotham, next. The amazing talent apparent in Dust and Shadow bodes well for Faye's future efforts. I'm a definite fan.
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