Book Reviews

Review Rating

With the October 2004 review, we began rating the books on the basis of one to four trowels; 
one trowel= don’t bother, to four trowels= run right out to your local book store and buy the hard cover!

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The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

Reviewed on: February 1, 2017


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:  New York City
2016 (HC)

The bucolic town of Walsingham in Norfolk has been a place of pilgrimage throughout England’s Christian era and perhaps stretching back into its pagan past.  Cathbad, the neo-Druid who is house- and cat-sitting for a friend in Walsingham, is told that the village has a nasty atmosphere, has been cursed since its monks were executed by Henry VIII, and is haunted by the Blue Lady of Walsingham.

It is in this setting and with this gothic ambiance that Elly Griffiths begin her most recent Ruth Galloway mystery.  The village would appear to deserve its dark reputation when a beautiful young woman, dressed in a white gown and flowing blue cloak, is found strangled on the road to the Roman Catholic Slipper Chapel.  Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson and his team of investigators are called in to investigate and quickly discern that the victim, Chloe Jenkins, has been a patient at the nearby Sanctuary, a treatment and rehabilitation center.  Earlier on the evening of the murder, Cathbad had seen a woman in blue in the St. Simeon graveyard behind his borrowed cottage, and reports his vision to Nelson.  Was it Chloe Jenkins or the mystical Blue Lady of Walsingham?

As the details of the murder unfold, Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist and lecturer at the University of North Norfolk, is drawn into the web of Walsingham mysteries.  Hilary Smithson, a classmate in archaeology who has since become an Anglican priest, asks for Ruth’s help as she has received a number of increasingly dire threats because she is a female cleric.  The threats specify Walsingham, where Hilary will be attending a conference on women preparing for the episcopacy (becoming bishops within the Church of England), an archaeological dig in the village, and most frightening of all, her child.

While DCI Nelson’s team try to solve Chloe’s murder and Ruth tries to help her beleaguered friend, the two threads become hopelessly intertwined when Harry Nelson’s wife Michelle is attacked and nearly strangled in the St. Simeon graveyard and later the same night Paula Moncrief, a fellow priest of Hilary’s attending the conference on women in the priesthood, is strangled and found nearby.   It is lost on no one that all three victims—Chloe, Michelle and Paula—were tall, beautiful, blonde women.  The hunt for a fanatic killer is on, with a number of potential suspects presenting tantalizing possibilities to the investigating team of police.  Ruth continues her train of investigation, believing the threats made to Hilary containing references to archaeological studies in Walsingham, hint at a motive more complex than hatred toward women clergy.

When Stanley Greenway, former Anglican priest, fellow patient and best friend of Chloe’s at the Sanctuary, and a known sex offender confesses to killing the young woman, the case seems to be closed.  But is it?  Both Ruth and Nelson have their doubts and it’s possible that the killing in Walsingham is not yet at end.

Elly Griffiths continues her masterful storytelling in this, the eighth Ruth Galloway novel, and while her main characters are not always loveable—sometimes they’re not even very likeable—the mysteries are always compelling and the denouements always unanticipated.  Four trowels for The Woman in Blue.

Twenty Years in the Trenches: Archaeology in Fiction

William Gresens, longtime MVAC supporter and volunteer, has been writing reviews of archaeological fiction as MVAC’s book reviewer for twenty years.  In this interview Bill shares how he got started writing reviews for MVAC, how the genre has changed, highlights, and his thoughts looking forward. 

Bill Gresen’s Book Review 20th Anniversary

While Bill's reviews go back 20 years now, his relationship with MVAC goes back more than twice that long! The reviews capture some of the things we enjoy most about Bill-- he's perceptive, methodical, a clear thinker, and a whole lot of fun! We look forward to this relationship--and Bill's reviews!--continuing for many years to come.

The March 2021 review marks the 20th anniversary of reviews of archaeological fiction.  It has been my pleasure and great fun to while away the hours reading these books—for the most part, at least—and writing the reviews!  My thanks to MVAC allowing me to prattle on and I look forward to the years ahead.

Bill Gresens