Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Last Remains (Ruth Gallowy #15) by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review


                        "Cathbad would say it was all part of the great web."

Parting is such sweet sorrow.  Don’t I know it.  I have been privileged to read one of the best mystery/crime series ever written.  I have had ten plus years of looking forward to a new Ruth Galloway mystery to read, and this year, 2023, is the last year for that guaranteed pleasure.  But, I surprisingly find myself doing okay with this loss, and that’s all due to the brilliance of Elly Griffiths in giving this story the ending it needed.  Of course, not all fans are going to agree on what’s the right ending, but the characters whom I’ve come to know and love have to do what’s best for their futures.  The Last Remains is a story with lots of change and long-awaited answers.  Every page is to be savored.


Lock-down for the pandemic is over, and life is beginning to open up again in 2021 when the academic school year is coming to a close and the summer solstice is near.  Ruth’s professional world is being turned upside down with the announcement of the closure of the archeology department at University of North Norfolk.  Ruth is head of this department and is working with fellow teacher David Brown           to save the department, but even the fame Ruth has brought to the university with her archeological work doesn’t seem to sway the board.  Without her job at UNN, Ruth will have to consider moving from Kings Lynn and her cottage by the marshes to find another teaching position.  School selection for Ruth’s twelve-year-old daughter Kate is important in the decision making, too, as she begins secondary school.  And, there’s Nelson.  Spending more time with him and Kate having him in her life on a regular basis has been just what Ruth wanted.  Nelson’s wife, Michelle, is living in Blackpool, so that’s allowed Nelson to focus on Ruth and Kate.  And, yet, Ruth has avoided conversations with Nelson about them moving in together.


A case that will bring Ruth to work with Nelson has just come about.  Builders renovating a cafĂ© take down an inner brick wall and discover a full human skeleton behind the wall.  Ruth is called in because, well, bones, and the police need to determine how old they are.  Turns out that they are fairly recent in terms of bones found, around twenty years old, and being bricked up in a wall pretty much guarantees that the person who inhabited those bones didn’t get there by herself.  Ruth suspects the skeleton is female, and science backs her up.  So, a murder investigation begins, one which will involve Ruth's and Nelson's friend Cathbad as a person of interest.                              


Emily Pickering was a student of archeology twenty years ago at St. Jude's College in Cambridge, and one of the last things she did was to attend a weekend at Grimes Grave's, a local ancient burial site, where Cathbad was also an attendee.  The professor in charge of the outing, Leo Ballard, was an associate of Cathbad’s and a mentor to some of the students, including Emily.  Was Leo more than a mentor to his female students?  Would that have been a factor in the young woman’s death?  What about the last known sightings of Emily Pickering in Ely the morning the outing to Grime's Graves ended?  What happened after that?  Everyone at that weekend gathering must be questioned, and the relationships among them untangled.  Cathbad, who seems to have lingering effects from his serious bout with Covid, disappears as the investigation progresses.  Is he somewhere felled by his Covid-related problems, or did he run away from a murder investigation?  His timing couldn’t be worse.


The Ruth Galloway series is remarkable in so many ways.  The setting of North Norfolk is greatly accommodating to stories, with its salt marshes and rich history and archeological finds and fascinating folkore and interesting, quirky places to visit.  The lantern men, the black shuck, and the grey lady of Tombland can all give a shiver when they show up in different books.  The salt marshes where Ruth lives with Kate in their cottage is featured throughout the books, and it gives off an other-worldly ambiance, sometimes with lights.  The ancient history of the Norfolk that goes back to the Bronze Age and the Iron Age--Nelson never could remember which was when--is included in the archeological findings of Ruth and others.  The Seahenge was the first thing Ruth and Cathbad have in common.  With Ruth being a forensic archeologist, her involvement in the police investigations always deals with the past and how it connects to the present.  Elly Griffiths has taken this story-rich setting and a character cast second to none and entwined them into well-paced, suspenseful plots unique in their telling.     


I can't emphasize enough how beloved the characters of the Ruth Galloway series are.  I've saved my final words about the series for a farewell to them.  Before I talk about the elephant in the room of character wrap-ups, that of Ruth and Nelson, I want to comment on a job well done by other characters.  We readers have a die-hard investment in their well-being, as we've followed them through the years. The Druid who captured our affection so completely deserves some single-outed attention.  Cathbad is larger than life, earning an equal footing with Ruth and Nelson, but his near magical existence sets him apart from any competition for affection.  Almost losing him to Covid in the last book was a hard road for readers to travel.  Elly Griffiths created something so special in this character that he has worked himself up to those mythical proportions running so wonderfully throughout the stories from Norfolk folklore and mythology.  His given name of Michael Malone just didn't encapsulate his extraordinary spirit, and so Cathbad was born.  He became the calm in the storm for the turmoil running through other characters’ lives and an integral part of Ruth’s and Nelson’s lives.                         


The police team working with Nelson have provided us with supporting cast gold.  Judy Johnson's evolution from Nelson’s second in command and a good Catholic girl in a marriage with her high school sweetheart to becoming Cathbad’s life partner is a transformation that readers found themselves rooting enthusiastically for.  Judy found freedom and love, and it was just such a lovely development, and, of course, she remains at the top of her game on the police force.  Dave Clough's (Cloughie) popularity seemed a bit more unexpected, but he ended up imprinted on our hearts, too, and it was always a delight to see him show up, even after he transferred to Cambridgeshire and became a DI.  Clough started in the series as an annoying blowhard, but he surprised readers and the other characters by becoming a friend to Judy and someone the team could depend on beyond his time in Kings Lynn.  Prickly DS Tanya Fuller redeems herself in The Last Remains, becoming a part of the team effort and not worrying so much about her place in it.  Judy’s absence on this case, due to Cathbad being a person of interest, provides the opportunity for Tanya to step up and not feel so competitive.  We see some nice glimpses of DC Tony Zhang's personal life in The Last Remains and some interesting investigative work when he is isolated due to Covid exposure.  Tony is an excellent investigator and sociably inclined, so, according to Nelson, "he always gets the personal stuff" from those he interviews.  The newer team members of DC Bradley Linwood and DC Lucy Vanstone have good instincts and awareness of details.  Lucy is on loan from Cambridgeshire and has a surprising connection to the area.  All of these members of Nelson's team and Nelson bring their different strengths and personalities to make the police procedural part of the series fascinating.


From the beginning of the series, the complicated relationship between Dr. Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson has dominated character story-lines.  Oh, how we readers have been put through the wringer with these two.  The Last Remains, of course, follows that line of nothing ever being simple with them, but, oh dear readers, we do at last get resolution.  Hopefully, it is the resolution you can be pleased with, as Ruth and Nelson don’t always follow the path of fairy-tales and Hallmark movies.  The character of Ruth is such a force in these books and in the hearts of readers that we all want what’s best for her.  I know that I have experienced one of the best character loves I ever will with Ruth Galloway.  Of course, paying tribute to the characters wouldn’t be complete without a grand salute to the amazing creation of Ruth’s and Nelson’s love, their daughter Kate.  She has been an absolute delight, certainly holding her own in an imperfect world.  Kate conducts herself with a maturity and forbearance many adults fail to achieve.  It’s Kate that I end up wondering the most about in what the future holds after this book.


There are more characters who readers have followed through the series, most notably Nelson's wife Michelle and his two oldest daughters, Laura and Rebecca.  However, I'm going to abide by the maxim, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  I admit there is growth in these characters, and they are essential to the series.  And, of course, if Elly Griffiths creates a character, it's going to be an interesting character, whether a reader likes them or not, or whether they're heroic or villainous.  I was hoping to leave the series with a more positive outlook on these three women, but the Father's Day dinner in this book rather smacked of manipulation and deceit.  It's always been Kate, sweet Kate, who has had to settle for less, with little or no thought for her feelings.  And, I do realize that Nelson isn't innocent in letting his life be ruled by their expectations.  I will say I am going to miss Flint and Thing and Bruno.  The animals come from a place of love.  Well, maybe Flint could have shown a little more love.   


So, the end, at least for now, has come, and I haven’t been reduced to a despondent, grief-stricken shell of my former self.  I will, of course, miss the characters who have become so alive to me and the stories that kept me on the edge of my seat.  I love this series like a best friend, because it has brought such joy to my life.  But, Elly Griffiths has given readers one last beautiful, amazing story that does this series proud, and I must thank her for that.  OK, I’m crying just a little.


Thanks to Mariner Books for an advanced copy of The Last Remains.  



Monday, January 23, 2023

Murder in All Fury (Acton and Doyle #16) by Anne Cleeland: Reading Room Review



“Vengeance was in his blood, along with wrath, and pride, and all those other very questionable medieval urges.”


Acton and Doyle have taken a vacation, something unheard of for them, to the seaside to allow Kathleen some relaxation after the birth of their new son Tommy.  It’s a good trip for first son Edward to burn off some of his energy, too, going to the sea and playing there.  Of course, events happen to catch the attention of Lord Acton, such as a fire at the nearby marina and the death of a well-known actress there. Acton as Chief Inspector with the Met is asked to consult on the fire and death.  Mary, Edward’s former nanny and a recent widow, comes to spend a few days with Kathleen toward the end of their stay.  The housekeeper, Mrs. Macky, seems quite taken with Mary and her daughter Gemma, paying little attention to the lady of the house who employs her. 

Getting back to London is a relief for both Kathleen and Michael.  The trial for the murderer of Mary’s husband, Nigel Howard, who was an MP, is soon to be underway, along with the other fentanyl murders. Although it is supposedly a cut and dried case, Kathleen is receiving ghostly visits from Mary’s husband saying otherwise.  Someone is slipping the knot of justice in this killing, and Sir Howard wants his death avenged and Mary protected.  And, Kathleen is puzzled at the ghost’s repeated comment that he is not sorry he’s dead.  With Acton also believing someone has escaped due justice, he’s involved in obtaining vengeance for Mary’s husband behind the scenes, as Acton is wont to do. 

Of course, Acton is usually pulling strings and doing his secretive stuff, and Kathleen is trying to figure out Acton’s contrivances and keep up with them.  It’s such a great part of this series, watching Acton’s and Doyle’s interactions and conversations as they work toward the same goal in their different ways.  They are both seeking to ensure the responsible parties pay for the death of a good man.  Kathleen is worried that this particular case is twisting Acton into way too many knots, and she, as Kathleen is wont to do, is determined to save him from himself.  “But, you’re brimful of wrath, Michael, and it’s blindin’ your judgment.”  What finally is brought to light will end up surprising both Acton and Doyle.

The characters of this series are some of my favorites in reading. Acton and Doyle are the perfect mismatched couple, complimenting one another with their differences in background and life views.  Kathleen Doyle isn’t afraid to admit she needs a clearer understanding of some words and allusions, but she is brilliant at putting together the puzzle that is Acton.  The love and warmth they bring to one another’s lives is life affirming in its depth. And, that both Acton and Doyle are on the police force gives them lots of common interests. The characters of Thomas Williams and his wife Izzy and Mary and her daughter Gemma enrich this story, as they do all stories in the series.  The enigmatic Phillip Savoie looms large and baffling, and Mary is being watched over very thoroughly by Phillipe Savoie, who is meeting all her needs and then some.  The always faithful, steady Reynolds expertly runs the household, but he defers to the Lady and Lord as any good English servant would.  Anne Cleeland never disappoints in bringing to life these creations of hers.

I so thoroughly enjoyed Murder in All Fury.  It’s one of my favorite ones in the Doyle and Acton series.  I enjoy all the books in this series, but this one really stands out for me.  I think all the Doyle and Acton fans are going to be exceedingly pleased with Murder in All Fury.  And, I do think that it could be read without reading the previous books because the plot is more linear than some in the series.  Of course, anyone reading any book in this series out of order is going to want to read them all. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Where the Guilty Hide by Annette Dashofy: Reading Room Review


Annette Dashofy has been busy.  She already has a highly popular series in the Zoe Chambers series, set in the author’s familiar Pennsylvania countryside but in a fictitious place.  Count me in the avid fans of Zoe Chambers.  She has a stand-alone, Death by Equine, published in 2021, which was not only well received by readers but also won the Dr. Tony Ryan Award last fall.  And now Annette Dashofy has created another series, the Detective Matthias Honeywell Mysteries, and Where the Guilty Hide is Book One.  Readers, who are devoted to an author’s long-running series, are always a bit anxious about their beloved author starting a new one.  Let me quell that anxiety.  The elements that have made the Zoe Chambers series successful are alive and well in this new series. 

Erie, Pennsylvania has seen its second home invasion in less than a week.  The second one occurs in a wealthy neighborhood in a house that has Lake Erie at its back end.  Unfortunately, this time the homeowner gets loose from his ties, and follows the thieves’ van in his car.  Detective Matthias Honeywell and his partner Cassie Malone arrive at the scene to find a distraught wife, Barbara, and two shaken-up teenagers.  The homeowner doesn’t return home and is considered missing.  His car is found empty in a lot, and while there are clues that Wesley Simmons was taken from his vehicle, there are no clues as to where he has been taken.    

Emma Anderson has come to Erie to hide and to find her drug-addicted younger sister.  Emma is a freelance photographer and is temporarily living in a camper at the local campground.  An assignment takes her to the beaches along Lake Erie to photograph kite fliers.  The day she goes is too overcast for the kite fliers to be out, so she takes pictures of the storm waves and driftwood.  One large pile of debris from the ocean catches her eye, so she photographs it, too.  When she returns to her car and looks at the photos on her laptop, she is shocked to see a human arm sticking out of the large debris pile.

Matthias and Cassie are called to the scene at the beach, as the body is a male who might be their missing homeowner.  It is, and Wesley Simmons did not go easy into that dark night.  The detectives now have a homicide to investigate, and readers will follow an engaging police procedural that shows the steps taken in the investigation and the adding up of evidence to reveal the guilty.  It’s a laborious process that speaks to the character of Matthias Honeywell, as his relentlessness to uncover who is doing the home invasions and who committed murder shows a man dedicated to his job and community. 

As coincidence would have it, Emma’s neighbor Joe turns out to be Barbara’s father, and Wesley Simmons’ father-in-law.  The two men did not get along and Joe’s relationship with his daughter is fraught with turmoil, too.  Emma seems to be caught in the middle of all that’s going on, being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Whether this is accidental or connects her to the criminal activity is what Matthias must determine.  The home invasion death won’t be the last, and the time to solve the cases will become shorter and shorter.

I’m so glad that Annette Dashofy has added to her already extraordinary body of work with this new series. The cast of characters are relatable and full of interesting back story that readers will want to know even more about. The plot takes some unexpected turns that made me truly admire the author’s control of the story and its outcome.  Dashofy knows where the story is going, enabling the reader to keep on track, too.  The fast pacing keeps the suspense building and kept me turning the pages.  And, the new setting of Erie, Pennsylvania on Lake Erie allows the author to stretch her well-honed talent of descriptive writing.  She knows how to describe a place to make it a vivid image, but she also knows not to make description a superfluous barrage.  It’s with great pleasure that I highly recommend the Detective Honeywell Mysteries series and its first book Where the Guilty Hide.  The next book can’t come soon enough.


I received an advanced copy of Where the Guilty Hide from NetGalley and HarperCollins.  I’ve provided my honest review.