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Monday, January 25, 2010 8:33 am
A FIRST NOVEL THAT WILL WORK
Posted by: Gary Niebuhr

One of my personal issues is that I do not like to use books from a series in my mystery and crime fiction book discussions unless it is the first book.  I just feel like book groups have to dither through too much baggage when they drop into a series with a complex character surrounded by a huge cast of inexplicable supporting characters all talking about issues that the new reader is unfamiliar with.

Better to use a first novel where everything is fresh for all.  The down side is that some first novels in genre series are not the author’s best work.

I am not about to predict where Elly Griffiths will be in a few years but her debut novel, The Crossing Places, is a solid genre novel that will appeal to groups interested in crime fiction.  Her main character, Dr. Ruth Galloway, teaches forensic archaeology at the University of North Norfolk.  She lives an isolated life on The Saltmarsh, a remote area which changes each day with the tides.  Ruth lives out there because she is fortyish, believes she is overweight, has had a rocky love life and basically does not relate to any people all that well.  Not even her mother. 

What will make Ruth fun to discuss is that the supporting characters in the novel treat her differently from her self-perceptions.  Questions will arise about her veracity that should enliven a discussion.

The subject matter of forensic archaeology will appeal as well.  I am like one of the characters in the book:  cannot tell the difference between the Bronze and Iron Age even if I held it in my hand.  But the idea that henges were built on this land and that secret pathways across the marsh are marked by posts that may lead a person to a mysterious and sacred ground is both chilling and enlightening. 

The setting of The Saltmarsh is used to great advantage in this novel and is reminiscent of the Grimpen Mire in The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle.  Setting becomes another character. 

Here is a first novel that should work for book discussion groups.  It will especially appeal to those looking for mystery or crime novel in the traditional style which distains graphic violence, language and sexual behavior yet handles all those topics within the narrative.  A second novel, called The Janus Stone, is scheduled for an American release this fall.


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