Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths

First Sentence: Every year a ceremony is held at Norwich Castle for the bodies in the paupers’ graves: the Service for the Outcast Dead.

Archeologist Ruth Galloway is on a dig at Norwich Castle when she uncovers the remains of a woman who may be Jemima Green, aka Mother Hook. She was a woman in the 1800s, thought to have taken in orphaned and abandoned children, only to murder and sell them to a resurrectionist. Her boss interests a television station in including the dig in their program, “Women who Kill,” but the show’s historian Professor Frank Barker, believes Mother Hook was innocent. DCI Harry Nelson, father to Ruth’s daughter, suspects a mother of recently killing her son. Did she also kill her two other children? And who is the “Childminder” who claims responsibility for newly abducted children?

It is from the opening of Ruth attending the Prayers for the Outcast Dead, a service to remember the buried unknown souls buried, that we learn the reasons why Ruth became an archaeologist…”To find out about how ordinary people lived their lives. We are their recorders….”


Griffiths has created a wonderful assortment of characters. However, one criticism is that there are so many, they are hard to keep straight. Also, if one is new to the series, I suspect they might find it a bit challenging keeping straight those new to this story and those carried forward from the past, especially those only referenced but not actual participants. That said, one of the things most appreciated is that Griffiths not only presents the events happening to the characters, but lets us see inside them to their fears and insecurities. She also captures perfectly the one-upmanship that can occur amongst strangers in a social setting.

Although Ruth is a wonderful character—not young, not svelte, not gorgeous, somewhat insecure about her skills as a mother, but an excellent archeologist, and we learn about more about her immediate family, it is her friend Cathbad, a druid who believes in things unseen but also suffers from heartache, who quickly becomes a favorite. “…He could burn some herbs and try to meditate. …He sighs and goes to look up Judy’s house on Google Earth.”

The Outcast Dead” was an enjoyable read but, sadly, not Ms. Griffiths best book. There were just too many characters and families with crossed lines to one another that made it difficult to follow. I like the series very much, but this needed to be pared back, perhaps to only one, or two story lines. Still, that doesn’t put me off looking forward to Ms. Griffiths next book.

THE OUTCAST DEAD (Lic Invest-Ruth Galloway-England-Contemp) – G+
Griffiths, Elly – 6th in series
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

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