Month: January 2012

A Room Full of Bones – Elly Griffiths

Title – A Room Full of Bones

Author – Elly Griffiths

Published – Jan 2012

Genre – Crime fiction / Mystery

Given the type of crime fiction I enjoy it’s surprising that I haven’t come across Elly Griffiths’ books before, but a chance tweet that she was holding a signing in my local bookshop prompted me to find out more (and buy a signed book). 

A Room Full of Bones is the fourth title in the “Ruth Galloway” series. Galloway is a Forensic Archaeologist and a single mum. She works at the local Uni (in Norfolk) and seems to have a history of involvement with the local police force. When A Room Full of Bones opens she has been asked to oversee the opening of a medieval bishop’ s coffin at the local museum. When she arrives early for the ceremony she finds the body of the museum’s curator dead beside the coffin. The circumstances appear to be mysterious, with a possible connection to some threatening letters, but nothing the police can be sure of.

The investigation is led by DCI Harry Nelson, someone with whom Galloway seems to have “history”. As the police attempt to resolve the circumstances of the death the investigation focuses on Lord Danforth Smith. He runs a racing stable and is the owner of the museum and a descendant of the long-dead bishop. This was great for me, as a huge fan of  Dick Francis it really felt like being in familiar territory.

Much of the story focuses on Galloway, and there’s lots of detail concerning her somewhat disorganised personal life, her efforts to look after her daughter and maintain her career. The setting is also important to the story, her cottage being out on a remote stretch of the Norfolk coast and Griffiths makes much of the desolate and isolated location.  

I found this book a real page turner (if you’ll excuse the cliché) and a very easy read. This isn’t in any way a criticism, Griffiths has a very enjoyable writing style and her characters are engaging.  It’s unpretentious writing.

It did strike me towards the end of the book that Galloway hadn’t actually done very much work, unlike characters in books by  authors such as Kathy Reichs or Patricia Cornwell, where there are pages and pages of technical information. Too much detail can spoil the pace of a story, but I would have liked to have found out a bit more about the work of a forensic archaeologist.

There isn’t a lot of time given over to scene setting from the previous books in the series, but there are quite a few references through the story to past events and I do wonder how I will feel when I read some of the earlier titles – there’s a chance that too much has been given away. I’m sure it won’t be long before I find out, as I have a signed copy of  The Crossing Places to read!

Score – 4/5

Carnival for the Dead – David Hewson

Title – Carnival for the Dead

Author – David Hewson

Published – January 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

I don’t think it’s a secret that I am a huge fan of David Hewson’s writing, and I have been eagerly awaiting the latest installment in the “Costa” series. For me the joy of reading one of these books is the combination of excellent prose,  a complex puzzle and often a hint of something more mysterious. It’s a relief to say that Carnival for the Dead doesn’t disappoint.

Carnival for the Dead is a variation on a theme, featuring forensic pathologist Teresa Lupo as the central character rather than the more familiar Nic Costa. The book sees a return to Venice (the setting for the earlier title in the series “The Lizard’s Bite”) as Lupo travels there with her mother following the mysterious disappearance of her  favourite Aunt, Sofia.  When Sofia’s apartment yields no apparent clues as to her whereabouts Lupo becomes concerned that something sinister has happened. She decides to stay in the apartment while she undertakes to search for her, quickly sending her mother home.

Her search is aided by a serious of cryptic stories which are mysteriously delivered to Sofia’s home. Although they have a “supernatural” feel to them they also bear an increasingly uncanny resemblance to her ongoing search for Sofia. But who is sending them? Is it Sofia, or someone who wants to help, and why can’t they just come forward and speak directly to Lupo?

With the rest of the usual team unavailable to help her, Lupo accepts the help of Alberto Tosi the (now retired) city pathologist, believing that he will have some influence with the local police. Unfortunately Carnival means the police are too busy to help with Lupo’s “mystery”, so she and Tosi attempt to carry on the investigation without them, even when there is a murder which Lupo believes is somehow connected to Sofia’s disappearance.

Venice is as much a character in this tale as Lupo herself. Set in February (the time of the Carnival) this isn’t the city most tourists will see – it’s cold, in fact there’s snow and ice, it’s dark and the masks and costumes of those taking part in the Carnival itself add to the sinister atmosphere.

I know that there is a suggestion that this may be the last in the “Costa” series, but I sincerely hope that isn’t the case. There are plenty of authors who have pursued a series for far too long, but Hewson has shown that applying a different perspective on the stories is an excellent way to ensure the reader’s continued interest.

A story with well-observed characters, a gripping mystery and all in the atmospheric setting of Venice – what more could you ask for!

Score – 4/5 (or 4.5 if I allowed half marks!)