Book Reviews

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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 Locked Room by Elly Griffiths

Reviewed on: October 1, 2022


Mariner Books:  New York
2022 (HC)

The latest entry in Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway mystery series continues without pause excellence in storytelling.  The mysteries continue to beguile as the author finds increasingly imaginative ways to believably introduce red herrings into the narrative that will lead the most astute reader astray as he or she valiantly endeavors to figure out “whodunit,” while at the same time fleshing out her cast of protagonists—particularly archaeologist Ruth Galloways and her sometime lover (and father of her daughter) Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson—with strengths, weaknesses and very human foibles.

This, the fourteenth volume in the series, opens with Ruth finally clearing out the personal belongings of her mother, who had passed away some few years earlier.  Among those memorabilia is a photo of Ruth’s cottage home on the Saltmarsh bordering the North Sea in County Norfolk, but the photo is dated some five years before Ruth’s birth.  The memento is particularly puzzling because Ruth’s mother had always disparaged Ruth’s lonely little home on the Saltmarsh.  This photographic clue leads Ruth on a journey into her family’s past that ultimately yields answers that will change her life forever—and will lead her to the locked room.

Meanwhile, author Griffiths weaves several more threads into this literary tapestry as DCI Nelson and his staff of detectives investigate a series of suspicious deaths—supposedly determined to be suicides—of several women, all of whom seem to have been unlikely candidates for suicide, and all of whom were involved in the Lean Zone weight loss program.  Ruth is called in to conduct the rapid excavation of an ancient (possibly medieval) burial exposed by a road construction crew working on a Norwich roundabout.  Her small but hastily assembled excavation crew include a young man and woman whose secretive ways hint at their possible involvement in the suicide/murders.  Local tradition further muddies the waters as Ruth receives warnings to “beware the grey lady,” which refers to the legend of a ghostly woman caught up in the 14th century plague that decimated the Norwich environs.  The legend told of the woman and her family forced to quarantine in their home by “keepers” and “watchers”—local vigilantes—to stem the tide of the epidemic.  Terrible things resulted from that quarantine that in turn led to the local legend.  The burial may in fact be the “grey lady,” a victim of the medieval epidemic, and buried in unhallowed ground.

Overlying the various plotlines, which inevitably begin to merge, is the very real plague that hit England and the rest of the world in early 2020, when The Locked Room was set:  COVID 19.  The author deftly weaves the realities of those early days of the coronavirus scourge into the plot:  lockdowns, homeschooling, virtual learning—all play a role in the novel, and even the police investigation of the supposed suicides is hampered by public health orders put in play.  The reader is reminded of those frightening early days of the pandemic—when no vaccine was yet available and the parameters of the potential damage that could be done by the disease—when Cathbad, Ruth’s friend and avowed Druid, is struck down by COVID and struggles for his life.

Three trowels for this engaging and complex mystery and its keen observations on the early struggle against COVID.