When she's not digging up bones or other ancient objects, quirky, tart-tongued archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives happily alone in a remote area called Saltmarsh near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitantsnot quite earth, not quite sea.
When a child's bones are found on a desolate beach nearby, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls Galloway for help. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to ritual and sacrifice.
The bones actually turn out to be two thousand years old, but Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers. Then another child goes missing and the hunt is on to find her. As the letter writer moves closer and the windswept Norfolk landscape exerts its power, Ruth finds herself in completely new territoryand in serious danger.
THE CROSSING PLACES marks the beginning of a captivating new crime series featuring an irresistible heroine.
About the Author
ELLY GRIFFITHS is the author of the Ruth Galloway and Magic Men mystery series. She is the recipient of the Mary Higgins Clark Award and the CWA Dagger in the Library Award, and her work has been praised as “gripping” (Louise Penny), “captivating,” (Wall Street Journal) and “must-reads for fans of crime fiction” (Associated Press). She lives in Brighton, England.
Read an Excerpt
Waking is like rising from the dead. The slow climb out of
sleep, shapes appearing out of blackness, the alarm clock
ringing like the last trump. Ruth flings out an arm and
sends the alarm crashing to the floor, where it carries on
ringing reproachfully. Groaning, she levers herself upright
and pulls up the blind. Still dark. It's just not right, she tells
herself, wincing as her feet touch the cold floorboards.
Neolithic man would have gone to sleep when the sun set
and woken when it rose. What makes us think this is the
right way round? Falling asleep on the sofa during
Newsnight, then dragging herself upstairs to lie sleepless
over a Rebus book, listen to the World Service on the
radio, count Iron Age burial sites to make herself sleep and
now this; waking in the darkness feeling like death. It just
wasn't right somehow.
In the shower, the water unglues her eyes and sends her
hair streaming down her back. This is baptism, if you like.
Ruth's parents are Born Again Christians and are fans of
Full Immersion For Adults (capitals obligatory). Ruth can
quite see the attraction, apart from the slight problem of not
believing in God. Still, her parents are Praying For Her (capitals
again), which should be a comfort but somehow isn't.
Ruth rubs herself vigorously with a towel and stares
unseeingly into the steamy mirror. She knows what she
will see and the knowledge is no more comforting than
her parents' prayers. Shoulder-length brown hair, blue
eyes, pale skin - and however she stands on the scales,
which are at present banished to the broom cupboard -
she weighs twelve and a half stone. She sighs (I am not
defined by my weight, fat is a state of mind) and squeezes
toothpaste onto her brush. She has a very beautiful smile,
but she isn't smiling now and so this too is low on the list
Clean, damp-footed, she pads back into the bedroom.
She has lectures today so will have to dress slightly more
formally than usual. Black trousers, black shapeless top.
She hardly looks as she selects the clothes. She likes
colour and fabric; in fact she has quite a weakness for
sequins, bugle beads and diamanté. You wouldn't know
this from her wardrobe though. A dour row of dark
trousers and loose, dark jackets. The drawers in her pine
dressing table are full of black jumpers, long cardigans
and opaque tights. She used to wear jeans until she hit
size sixteen and now favours cords, black, of course.
Jeans are too young for her anyhow. She will be forty
Dressed, she negotiates the stairs. The tiny cottage has
very steep stairs, more like a ladder than anything else. 'I'll
never be able to manage those' her mother had said on her
one and only visit. Who's asking you to, Ruth had replied
silently. Her parents had stayed at the local B and B as
Ruth has only one bedroom; going upstairs was strictly
unnecessary (there is a downstairs loo but it is by the
kitchen, which her mother considers unsanitary). The
stairs lead directly into the sitting room: sanded wooden
floor, comfortable faded sofa, large flat-screen TV, books
covering every available surface. Archaeology books
mostly but also murder mysteries, cookery books, travel
guides, doctor-nurse romances. Ruth is nothing if not
eclectic in her tastes. She has a particular fondness for children's
books about ballet or horse-riding, neither of which
she has ever tried.
The kitchen barely has room for a fridge and a cooker
but Ruth, despite the books, rarely cooks. Now she
switches on the kettle and puts bread into the toaster,
clicking on Radio 4 with a practised hand. Then she
collects her lecture notes and sits at the table by the front
window. Her favourite place. Beyond her front garden
with its windblown grass and broken blue fence there is
nothingness. Just miles and miles of marshland, spotted
with stunted gorse bushes and criss-crossed with small,
treacherous streams. Sometimes, at this time of year, you
see great flocks of wild geese wheeling across the sky,
their feathers turning pink in the rays of the rising sun.
But today, on this grey winter morning, there is not a
living creature as far as the eye can see. Everything is
pale and washed out, grey-green merging to grey-white
as the marsh meets the sky. Far off is the sea, a line of
darker grey, seagulls riding in on the waves. It is utterly
desolate and Ruth has absolutely no idea why she loves
it so much.
She eats her toast and drinks her tea (she prefers coffee
but is saving herself for a proper espresso at the university).
As she does so, she leafs through her lecture notes, originally
typewritten but now scribbled over with a palimpsest
of additional notes in different coloured pens. 'Gender and
Prehistoric Technology', 'Excavating Artefacts', 'Life and
Death in the Mesolithic', 'The Role of Animal Bone in
Excavations'. Although it is only early November, the
Christmas term will soon be over and this will be her last
week of lectures. Briefly, she conjures up the faces of her
students: earnest, hard-working, slightly dull. She only
teaches postgraduates these days and rather misses the
casual, hungover good humour of the undergraduates. Her
students are so keen, waylaying her after lectures to talk
about Lindow Man and Boxgrove Man and whether
women really would have played a significant role in
prehistoric society. Look around you, she wants to shout,
we don't always play a significant role in this society. Why
do you think a gang of grunting hunter-gatherers would
have been any more enlightened than we?
Thought for the Day seeps into her unconscious,
reminding her that it is time to leave. 'In some ways, God
is like an iPod …' She puts her plate and cup in the sink
and leaves down food for her cats, Sparky and Flint. As
she does so, she answers the ever-present sardonic interviewer
in her head. 'OK, I'm a single, overweight woman
on my own and I have cats. What's the big deal? And,
OK, sometimes I do speak to them but I don't imagine
that they answer back and I don't pretend that I'm any
more to them than a convenient food dispenser.' Right
on cue, Flint, a large ginger Tom, squeezes himself
through the cat flap and fixes her with an unblinking,
'Does God feature on our Recently Played list or do we
sometimes have to press Shuffle?'
Ruth strokes Flint and goes back into the sitting room to
put her papers into her rucksack. She winds a red scarf (her
only concession to colour: even fat people can buy scarves)
round her neck and puts on her anorak. Then she turns out
the lights and leaves the cottage.
Ruth's cottage is one in a line of three on the edge of
the Saltmarsh. One is occupied by the warden of the bird
sanctuary, the other by weekenders who come down in
summer, have lots of toxic barbecues and park their 4 °-
4 in front of Ruth's view. The road is frequently flooded
in spring and autumn and often impassable by midwinter.
'Why don't you live somewhere more convenient?' her
colleagues ask. 'There are some lovely properties in
King's Lynn, or even Blakeney if you want to be near to
nature.' Ruth can't explain, even to herself, how a girl
born and brought up in South London can feel such a pull
to these inhospitable marshlands, these desolate
mudflats, this lonely, unrelenting view. It was research
that first brought her to the Saltmarsh but she doesn't
know herself what it is that makes her stay, in the face of
so much opposition. 'I'm used to it,' is all she says.
'Anyway the cats would hate to move.' And they laugh.
Good old Ruth, devoted to her cats, child-substitutes of
course, shame she never got married, she's really very
pretty when she smiles.
Today, though, the road is clear, with only the everpresent
wind blowing a thin line of salt onto her
windscreen. She squirts water without noticing it, bumps
slowly over the cattle grid and negotiates the twisting road
that leads to the village. In summer the trees meet overhead,
making this a mysterious green tunnel. But today the
trees are mere skeletons, their bare arms stretching up to
the sky. Ruth, driving slightly faster than is prudent, passes
the four houses and boarded-up pub that constitute the
village and takes the turning for King's Lynn. Her first
lecture is at ten. She has plenty of time.
Ruth teaches at the University of North Norfolk (UNN
is the unprepossessing acronym), a new university just
outside King's Lynn. She teaches archaeology, which is a
new discipline there, specialising in forensic archaeology,
which is newer still. Phil, her head of department,
frequently jokes that there is nothing new about archaeology
and Ruth always smiles dutifully. It is only a matter
of time, she thinks, before Phil gets himself a bumper
sticker. 'Archaeologists dig it.' 'You're never too old for an
archaeologist.' Her special interest is bones. Why didn't the
skeleton go to the ball? Because he had no body to dance
with. She has heard them all but she still laughs every time.
Last year her students bought her a life-size cut-out of
Bones from Star Trek. He stands at the top of her stairs,
terrifying the cats.
On the radio someone is discussing life after death. Why
do we feel the need to create a heaven? Is this a sign that
there is one or just wishful thinking on a massive scale?
Ruth's parents talk about heaven as if it is very familiar, a
kind of cosmic shopping centre where they will know their
way around and have free passes for the park-and-ride, and
where Ruth will languish forever in the underground car
park. Until she is Born Again, of course. Ruth prefers the
Catholic heaven, remembered from student trips to Italy
and Spain. Vast cloudy skies, incense and smoke, darkness
and mystery. Ruth likes the Vast: paintings by John Martin,
the Vatican, the Norfolk sky. Just as well, she thinks wryly
as she negotiates the turn into the university grounds.
The university consists of long, low buildings, linked by
glass walkways. On grey mornings like this it looks
inviting, the buttery light shining out across the myriad car
parks, a row of dwarf lamps lighting the way to the
Archaeology and Natural Sciences Building. Closer to, it
looks less impressive. Though the building is only ten years
old, cracks are appearing in the concrete façade, there is
graffiti on the walls and a good third of the dwarf lamps
don't work. Ruth hardly notices this, however, as she parks
in her usual space and hauls out her heavy rucksack -
heavy because it is half-full of bones.
Climbing the dank-smelling staircase to her office, she
thinks about her first lecture: First Principles in
Excavation. Although they are postgraduates, many of her
students will have little or no first-hand experience of digs.
Many are from overseas (the university needs the fees) and
the frozen East Anglian earth will be quite a culture shock
for them. This is why they won't do their first official dig
As she scrabbles for her key card in the corridor, she is
aware of two people approaching her. One is Phil, the
Head of Department, the other she doesn't recognise. He is
tall and dark, with greying hair cut very short and there is
something hard about him, something contained and
slightly dangerous that makes her think that he can't be a
student and certainly not a lecturer. She stands aside to let
them pass but, to her surprise, Phil stops in front of her
and speaks in a serious voice which nevertheless contains
an ill-concealed edge of excitement.
'Ruth. There's someone who wants to meet you.'
A student after all, then. Ruth starts to paste a welcoming
smile on her face but it is frozen by Phil's next words.
'This is Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. He
wants to talk to you about a murder.'
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
While it was fairly easy to identify the killer in The Crossing Places, this was still an enjoyable read. Ruth Galloway, the archeologist accidental detective, and Det Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, the policeman she helps out, are a well-matched pair, each a bit prickly and a bit vulnerable. Elly Griffiths spends time developing their characters without letting this get in the way of the mystery, and Ruth's line of work allows Griffiths to pull in characters whose interests and areas of expertise add to the layers of this novel. She also does a nice job of conveying a sense of the Saltmarsh, where Ruth lives in a small cottage, sometimes uncomfortably close to the elements. If you're looking for an impossible to solve mystery, this is not the novel for you, but if you're looking for something a bit less cozy than Miss Marple but with a main character who shares Miss Marple's backbone and her ability to notice the small details that make all the difference, this might be a good book for you to curl up with.
Originally posted on my blog. Cover Talk: I love how the cover is exactly how I picture Ruth’s homeland. Homesea? Homeplace. The cover is what caught my eye while browsing through a list of British mysteries on Goodreads because it didn’t try to obnoxious. First Line: “They wait for the tide and set out at first light.” Why I Read It: I have been in the mood for a good British mystery lately and when I read that the main character is an archaeologist I knew it was something I desperately needed to read. Characters: Ruth is not the typical female heroine that I have grown accustomed to. She’e definitely better. I lovingly call her an “academic spinster.” She has two cats, not much of a social life outside of her digging and her lectures, and is fascinated by dead and buried things. When she is asked to used her archaeological skills to help shed some insight into a murder investigation, she accepts and becomes a wee bit obsessed. Obsessed and intelligent are how I like my amateur detectives. Nelson, or Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, is a serious, broody, workaholic. Ten years have gone by since Lucy has gone missing, and another child has just been kidnapped. Not a chapter or scene goes by when he’s not working hard at trying to solve these kidnappings. He is incredibly dedicated and is a lot smarter than he would have anyone believe. As for the secondary characters, I was really surprised by how well they all fit into this mystery and into Ruth’s life. Shona, her friend and colleague, is that friend you want to hate because she’s so beautiful, but is hard to resist because she’s just so nice. Erik, Ruth’s friend and mentor, is incredibly charming, alluring, and is a wonderful story teller. I loved his character. Cathbad is a druid/New Ager and I absolutely want to see more of him in the next book. And as for her neighbor, David, his character is definitely an interesting one. He is so quiet and is a bit of a loner. Oh, and has a thing for birds. Plot/World-building: I am such a sucker for British mysteries. I have never stepped foot outside of North America, but in my mind, I live in England, also Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. So reading this book and being submerged in British culture and landscape was simply amazing. The descriptions that Griffiths provides are beautiful, eerie, and evocative. Ruth and Nelson make such a brilliant team. They are both obsessive, smart, and love their jobs more than anything else. I loved seeing Ruth think things through while Nelson is already speeding away to follow leads. Their relationship also takes a turn that I didn’t really see coming and am interested to see what happens with them in the next books. My biggest enjoyment in The Crossing Places is the archaeological bits. I loved reading the discovering of bones, artifacts, and henges. And on top of that there is great attention to myths, history, and some New Age ways of thinking that made me want to be there to experience it all first hand. The ending I absolutely did not see coming. I’m still amazed at how everything came together and who was involved. I am definitely looking forward to reading the rest of this series and seeing more of Ruth. Final Thoughts: I devoured this book in two days. It was so difficult to put down. I didn’t want to leave the characters or the marshes, and I certainly wanted to solve this damn case. Elly Griffiths is a great weaver of mysteries and I cannot wait to see what else she has in store for Ruth.
I recommend this book to all who love a mystery! Ruth Galloway is a wonderful "investigator" - unusual but practical in many ways. Loved this book, look forward to more by same author, however, there are some times when it drags a bit. Mostly it's very much worth the effort & money.
I'm on the third Ruth Galloway Mystery. I enjoy these books so much that I special ordered the third one from the UK before it was even available in the USA. Maybe it's because I live in a landlocked American city, but I find the descriptions of the scenery so captivating, and Ruth is endearing and interesting, and I love the mix of Ruth's personal life and the great mysteries in each book. Can't wait for the next one!
Beaitifully written, with an intriguing setting and thoroughly interesting characters. The identity of the culprit did seem obvious early, but there were others who coul d have been involved, so the plot still retained my interest. Highly recommended!
I thought this story was very good. It's nice when you can learn from what you're reading. It's full of facts about archeology. It held my interest. In fact, I could hardly put it down. I intend to read all her books now.
Wonderful description of salt flats. Lots of interesting archeology. I will look forward to the next book by the author. I like it when a book is well written and actually has new information and words I need to look up.
First in a series of books featuring Ruth Galloway, a feisty forensic archeologist/teacher who lives on the edge of the marshlands near Norfolk, England. In ancient mythology, this marshland was sacred because it was a mixture of land and sea. At one time, it was a land mass connecting present day England and Scandinavia. Ancient people's considered it to be sacred, a connection between earth and the afterlife. The book begins when a young child goes missing and DCI Harry Nelson fears a connection to a similar missing child from ten years ago. Then the police find child's bones in the marshlands and Nelson calls on Galloway to determine the age of these bones. Though these turn out to be ancient bones, Nelson and Galloway pair up to try and fine the two present day children because of letters Nelson has been receiving referring to ancient legends and tantalizing references to the first lost child. Ancient mythology and present day terrors form an intriguing mystery that drives these two characters further and further into dangerous situations. A deft combination of forensic archeology and present day murder mystery makes this a most compelling read for historical and mystery fans alike.
This was an enjoyable read for me. The unique setting and the characters are what made this book for me. The mystery was okay; I pretty much figured out the villain early on, but there were enough red herrings thrown in that I wasn't positive of my belief. Ruth is not a loveable character in demeanor by any means (nor, for that matter, were any of the others), and yet I found myself drawn to her and her world BECAUSE she seemed "real" and flawed. One thing I found annoying was the author's constant reminder that Ruth was a bigger girl. You gave me enough description of her that I got the picture early on, and I felt the constant reminders of her size were unnecessary. So she's not a size 2 -- okay, I get it. Her size (which for most women in the real world is pretty much average) certainly didn't affect the story for me one way or another. I truly enjoyed this book and look forward to Ruth's next adventure.
Excellent and wonderful read. Don't usually read foreign authors, yet this was quite captivating. Love Ruth the heroine. She's like 'Bridget Jones' mixed with CSI....5STARS!
This book is sooooooo good!
Riveting and hard to put down!
This is the first book I have read by Elly Griffiths. It was a very quick and easy read for me, but at the same time, it kept me interested in the storyline and the mystery that ensued. Once I got past the English verbiage,I was hooked! I liked this book so much, I have purchased 2 more books by this author. I promise, you will enjoy it!
Goodreads reviews for The Crossing Places are mixed, but I have to say that I did enjoy this suspense novel that mixes archeology and crime in an enticing story. I didn’t expect much when I started reading, as I had never heard of the author nor the book before. The blurb drew me in. But as soon as I started the book, I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll talk about characters first, plot second, settings third and writing last. Ruth Galloway, the main character, isn’t the typical heroine you’d expect in a crime story. She’s a forty-something, overweight academic who is genuinely convinced her weight makes her unattractive. She’s a loner surrounded more by cats than people, and lives close to the marshlands, the Saltmarsh, near Norfolk. As an archeologist, the discovery of a two thousand year old skeleton in the marshland behind her home makes her more than a little excited. I liked Ruth because she was different – it was like she’d walked straight out of an entirely different novel and sat down in the middle of this one. Lately it seems like I’ve been reading more and more books with academics playing a large role, and I’m kind of fond of these types of protagonists, the ones who think first and act later. The old cliché of an action-packed police force trying to reign in the killer is getting tiresome, and I much prefer the less straightforward protagonist. Ruth is a woman with a lot of self-doubt, and it made her all the more real for me. She depends too much on other people, like her mentor and the other academics at university, and spends too much time worrying what others might think of her. The discovery of the bones is a blessing in disguise for Ruth, because it allows her to venture outside of her known territory and maybe try something new and exciting. Then there’s Harry Nelson, Chief Inspector of the police, and everything Ruth isn’t. Athletic, strong, powerful, dominant. His very presence in a room is overwhelming – the kind of person who dominates an entire crowd simply by making an appearance, a stark contrast to Ruth’s personality. Ruth is a scholar and Harry is a man of action. He’s tormented by the case of a girl who went missing ten years ago, Lucy, a case never solved. Harry is more of a stereotype, the one of the tormented detective, haunted by this one particular case that won’t leave him alone. Nevertheless, he too steps outside of the known character stereotypes, because he’s okay with thinking outside of the box and seeing the connection between the thousand-year-old corpse in the marsh and the disappearance of Lucy. Plot-wise, the book was mediocre at best. A body is discovered in the marshland, and Chief Inspector Harry Nelson thinks it may be Lucy, the missing girl from ten years ago. Ruth and her team of archeologists go to investigate, but it turns out the body is over two thousand years old. Involuntarily, the discovery of the ancient bones draws Ruth into the investigation. Ever since Lucy went missing, Harry has received letters with bizarre references to sacrifices and rituals, and asks Ruth to help decipher those letters. The letters point toward a fellow archeologist Ruth used to know, and the longer Ruth decides to help the police, the more she becomes involved in the case, which is a lot closer to home than she realized… I actually figured out who had taken Lucy from the first moment said person was introduced. I kind of predicted the end halfway through the book. But, it had enough twist and turns to keep me interest, and I was really impressed by the combination of law enforcement and crime solving and archeology. I’m a huge archeology freak, and I love crime novels, so for me this was the ultimate twist. The mystery with the rituals and sacrifice had me intrigued as well. While the plot bordered on predictable, I was still impressed by how intrigued I was by what was going on, and how much I enjoyed reading about it. The setting was extraordinary, and very well-described. The bleak, unforgiving landscape of the marshland behind Ruth’s house provided a dreary, depressive and sometimes dark and haunting setting. At times, it seemed like the marsh itself had become a character in this book. A lot of Goodreads reviewers complained about the use of present tense in this book, but it didn’t bother me. I actually like books written in present tense – it adds a sense of urgency. The sometimes excessive use of exclamation points didn’t bother me either, I guess I was too engrossed in the story to care. Nevertheless, I understand the point about complaining about the tense of this book, and if you think it might annoy you as well, then better stay away from this book. If you’re a fan of archeology and crime however, and you don’t care about some writing choices, then The Crossing Places is an excellent choice.
Read this book in about three days. Its a good short crime read. I like the main character Ruth Galloway and am excited to read her next book in the series.
Enjoyed very much. Archeological references were interseting.
Other reviewers seemed to find the mystery easier, perhaps because I was distracted by the view, the archaeology and the well drawn characters. These were great distractions, so much so that within 2 weeks or so of discovering Ruth, I just finished book 4. Much still surprises me in these books, which feel well researched and intricate without being dull or complicated beyond belief. I like to feel I have learned some new information on a new topic even from reading detective fiction and these books deliver the goods.
Well written. It keeps you entertained. I liked it so much that I read the entire book in one day.
Being English living abroad I seek out murder mysteries that can conjure up the countryside and culture of my birth and this does not dissapoint. Nothing too complex on the plot, which I like. Already into the next in the series.
Started out with #3 in the series then read #1. Just finished #2 and enjoyed it very much. Characters are real and the archeology history is interesting and fun.
This series of mysteries starring Dr. Ruth Galloway is superb. The character of Ruth is intelligent and caring yet has little confidence in her appearance and appeal. Don't skip any of the books in this series. The characters develop through each book.
Really enjoyed this one. Her discriptions of the land are wonderful. I bought her other books after reading this one.
Ruth Galloway is likable and sympathetic -- she'd make a great co-worker, or professor. Or friend. The setting is terrific, and the supporting characters are great. The plot is VERY interesting, and suspenseful, and listening to it while driving home in the rain just past midnight resulted in my yelling at Dr. Galloway several times to "Look out!" I'm a huge mystery fan, and I'm glad I found Elly Griffiths.
It was good
The plot was intriguing and the ending was a tiny bit surprising. Unfortunately, a whole lot of the plot was just boring and very predictable. While fast andveasy to read, the writing really didn't flow well. Overall, this book just isn't very polished. Hopefully, that will improve as the series continues. Stephanie Clanahan