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 Last Remains by Elly Griffiths

Reviewed on: June 1, 2023


Mariner Books:  New York City
2023 (HC)

In what may be her last Ruth Galloway mystery, author Elly Griffiths continues to gift her loyal readers with another tantalizing blend of archaeology and police procedural.  In the real-life city of King’s Lynn in the North Sea-bordering County of Norfolk, a fully articulated skeleton is discovered behind a wall during the refurbishment that will lead to the opening of the new Red Lady Tea Room.  The property developer calls on the expertise of archaeologist Ruth Galloway of the local University of North Norfolk to determine the provenance of the remains.  The request provides Ruth with a brief pause from her duties as department chair of the university’s archaeology program, as she and her colleagues battle administration plans to close the program in the face of diminishing enrollments during the nation-wide COVID lockdowns.

Ruth quickly determines that it is a relatively recent death, and quite possibly a homicide.  As a result, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson and his staff, somewhat short-handed due to COVID quarantines, are called in to investigate.  Ruth believes the corpse is that of a mature woman, moved to the hidden space after her death, due quite possibly to blunt force trauma to the head.  This case once again brings Ruth and DCI Nelson together in a professional setting, which exacerbates their complicated personal lives—for Nelson is the father of Ruth’s 12-year-old daughter Kate, conceived when Nelson was still married to another woman and was rearing a family of his own.

Working in coordination with Nelson’s investigators, the nearby Cambridgeshire police believe the remains are those of a Cambridge University archaeology student named Emily Pickering, who had gone missing some twenty years earlier.  When interviewing the parents of the missing student, Nelson and his former colleague, Dave Clough—now Detective Inspector in Cambridgeshire—learn that the young woman, then an archaeology student at St. Jude’s College of Cambridge University, disappeared on a field trip to Grime’s Graves, a neolithic mining site in the nearby vicinity.  The still-embittered father blamed archaeologist Professor Leo Ballard, the director of the project, and one of his assistants, a self-styled neo-Druid named Cathbad—the same Cathbad that had been a close friend to both Ruth and Nelson for years.  And the same Cathbad that was still recovering from a near-death experience from COVID.

Cathbad readily agrees to tell Nelson of those heady days twenty years in the past when the small band of archaeology students would meet to share their love of the discipline as well as the mystical features of their investigations of the ancient mines that harkened back to Anglo-Saxon times and their array of gods and goddesses.  That small band included Emily Pickering, a young woman who was apparently the object of desire of every male in the group—including Cathbad and Professor Ballard.  When not in the field at Grime’s Graves, the group would often gather at the Green Child Café for socializing and pithy and erudite discussions.  Twenty years on, the Green Child Café site was to be renovated into the Red Lady Tearoom—where Emily Pickering’s remains were found! 

While Nelson and his staff follow a bewildering host of clues to puzzle out the mystery of Emily Pickering’s disappearance, Ruth believes the answer to Emily’s death two decades earlier, and Cathbad’s sudden mysterious disappearance, will be unearthed in the lunar landscape that is Grime’s Graves.  But by following her instincts, Ruth plunges herself and her daughter Kate into more danger than she could have imagined.

If this is to be the final Ruth Galloway adventure, it is a most satisfying one, and perhaps what adds to this satisfaction is the way in which author Griffiths has fleshed out the supporting characters that have wound their way through previous narratives and have added immeasurably to the quality of this series.  Four trowels for The Last Remains.