I know a lot of people are going to greet a new Ruth Galloway novel with delight, and I'm delighted to be able to say that, in The Outcast Dead, Elly Griffiths has done it again. Resoundingly so. I stayed up half the night to finish it.
Ruth is involved in a dig in Norwich Castle, and has just discovered a body that she thinks just might be that of a famous child-murderer, Mother Hook. Her instinct is to be cautious, as ever, but her loathsome head of department is courting television (and taking the credit). An appearance on a TV programme called "Woman Who Kill" is just the sort of thing he'd love, and exactly the sort of thing Ruth will treat with considerable suspicion. Though it does help that there's an attractive historian involved. Meanwhile, Nelson is investigating the case of a woman who may have killed her young children. He thinks she's guilty but the first two deaths were accepted as cot deaths and it's only with the latest that suspicions have been aroused. It's a tense situation, and so easy to be seen as crass and insensitive -- not that that really troubles Nelson, but it provokes a lot of hostility around him. Meanwhile, their Druid friend, Cathbad, is still in Lancashire, and both are missing him, though Nelson's not about to admit it, of course.
My difficulty in reviewing this book is that I don't want to give anything away! There is so much going on with all the regular characters, who have all become real people over the course of six books -- even the people you don't like make welcome returns. After all, that's what real life is like. There are some recent introductions, too -- a new police colleague causes tensions within Nelson's team, as you'd expect. And yet again, Griffiths builds up to an absolutely nail-biting ending.
There is some first-rate crime writing around these days, and this series is one of the best. For readers like me, who prefer the background detail of an investigation, and want believable and likeable characters who actually exhibit a degree of personal growth across both the individual book and the whole series, these are perfect. I don't want to spend most of a book inside the head of someone so unpleasant that reading makes me uncomfortable, nor do I want graphic depictions of extreme violence. I want to care about the people I'm reading about. And with Elly Griffiths, I know I will.
I read The Outcast Dead courtesy of NetGalley.