I picked up "The Crossing Places" in an audible book sale offering first-in-a-series books. I half expected it to be Temperance Brennan / Kay Scarpetta with an English accent. It turned out to be something much more orginal and engaging than that:a thriller seasoned with a strong sense of place, revolving around a normal English woman who finds herself at the centre of events she has no control over.
"The Crossing Places" is set in the desolate salt marshes in Norfolk on the east coast of England. The whole novel is encrusted with the smell of sea and dominated by the vast sweep of the treacherous marsh and the brooding sky it stretches out to meet.
Ruth Galloway fell in love with the desolate beauty of this landscape ten years earlier, while on a dig to find a bronze-age sacred circle of wooden posts buried in the treacherous mudflats at the furthest point that the marsh meets the see. She stayed when the dig finished, becoming a member of faculty, specialising in forensic anthropology, at the local university, choosing to live in relative isolation at the edge of the Saltmarsh.
Ruth is the anchor of the book. A large part of the appeal of this book is that Ruth is not the typical kick-ass heroine I've grown used to reading about in these kinds of books. She's the kind of woman I might meet and like in real life. Ruth sees herself as an over-weight, no-longer ambitious woman, a year away from being forty, single and likely to stay that way, living alone with two child-substitute cats, comfortable with her own company and bespelled by the mercurial spirit of the Saltmarsh.
Ruth is counterpointed by DCI Harry Nelson, who hates the Saltmarsh in particular and Norfolk in general, is haunted by his failure to find a little girl abducted ten years earlier and driven by the need to bring closure for the family and himself.
The two are brought together by the discovery of bones in the Saltmarsh, which Harry asks Ruth to attest to the age of. Ruth becomes entangled in reviewing the circumstances of the old abduction and what has happened since and then in the search for another girl, recently abducted and perhaps linked to the first.
"The Crossing Places" sustains an atmosphere of brooding menance from both the characters and the location. I was kept guessing until the end about who would be guilty of what. I found the tension was more effective than usual because the people affected by the events were so normal.
I did struggle from time to time with the slightly clumsy use of first person present tense. I don't mind the technique, but even in the audiobook version, it was occasionally distracting.
Overall, this is an above-average crime novel which I hope is a stong start to a good series.
I was a little intimidated when I saw "The Crossing Places" listed as a debut novel because the writing seemed too accomplished to be a first effort. It turns out that Elly Griffiths was created by an editor when, after writing three novels about Italian families, Domenica de Rosa's fourth novel, "The Crossing Places", took a new direction. The editor believed that a crime novel required a crime name and so Ely Griffiths was summoned into being. You can find out more at Ely Griffith's website.