The Crossing Places

Elly Griffiths

When she’s not digging up bones or other ancient objects, quirky, tart-tongued archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives happily alone in a remote area called Saltmarsh near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants - not quite earth, not quite sea. When a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach nearby, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls Galloway for help. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to ritual and sacrifice. The bones actually turn out to be two thousand years old, but Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers. Then another child goes missing and the hunt is on to find her. As the letter writer moves closer and the windswept Norfolk landscape exerts its power, Ruth finds herself in completely new territory – and in serious danger.

When a set of old bones is discovered in a remote area of Norlfolk called the Saltmarsh, DCI Harry Nelson visits the Archaeology Department at the University of North Norfolk, He wants to know how old the bones are because he suspects they may be the bones of Lucy Downey, who disappeared ten years earlier. Nelson was one of the investigators on the original team and at the time of the disappearance, he received a series of letters that seemed to come from the person who abducted Lucy. No trace of the girl has been found though, and he has been haunted by his inability to solve the case and give her parents some resolution. Dr. Ruth Galloway, an expert on bone presentation, agrees to go with Nelson to look at the bones and give an opinion about their probable age. To her surprise, the bones turn out to belong to a girl from the Iron Age, and this opens up all sorts of possibilities for new research. So once Nelson is satisfied that the site won’t be needed for his criminal investigation, it’s opened up for new excavation.

The physical setting is strong: The Saltmarsh, where Galloway lives and where much of the story takes place is lonely and inhospitable. Galloway enjoys the solitude and there is a wild beauty in the marshland, the birds and the lack of overcrowding and noise. But it’s a stark place that’s not to everyone’s liking. It makes a very effective backdrop for the events in the story though and the sudden weather changes add to the suspense.

As much as anything else, this novel tells both Galloway’s and Nelson’s personal stories. It’s told from both of their points of view, alternating between them as the story goes on. Readers who prefer only one perspective will notice this but it’s always clear whose point of view is being shared, and Griffiths uses this strategy very effectively to tell both characters’ backstories. And it turns out that their histories do play important roles in the story.Galloway and Nelson are interesting characters too. Galloway is single by choice and lives alone with her cats. But she’s hardly a ‘crazy cat lady’ although she does have a wry sense of humour about the way she lives. She isn’t conventionally beautiful but her intelligence, capability and ability to be sympathetic are appealing, and it’s easy to see why Nelson is drawn to her. For his part, Nelson is dedicated to his job but not one of those stereotypical obsessed cops who drink too much and don’t care about anyone else. He loves his children and is devoted to his wife. At first, Nelson and Galloway are drawn together mostly by the puzzle they’re trying to solve.

The Crossing Places is the story of three past and present mysteries, all related and all tied up in the personal stories of Ruth Galloway and Harry Nelson. It takes place in a starkly beautiful and distinctive setting and features a look at the world of archaeology as well as a real-life look at ‘cold case’ police investigations. 

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Writer

About Elly Griffiths:

Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway novels take for their inspiration Elly's husband, who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist, and her aunt who lives on the Norfolk coast and who filled her niece's head with the myths and legends of that area. Elly has two children and lives near Brighton. Though not her first novel, The Crossing Places is her first crime novel.