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by Elly Griffiths
Mariner Books, June 2022
384 pages
ISBN: 0358671396

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In THE LOCKED ROOM, Ruth Galloway returns for her 14th appearance in Elly Griffiths's series set in Norfolk, England. As in previous books in the series, Griffiths creates tension at the level of a slow burn, but this time, there's a new twist. Beginning in February 2020, the novel takes place just as the first cases of Covid were spreading through England, and the country starts to navigate sheltering in place. Ruth learns to conduct her classes on Zoom and tries to keep her daughter Kate engaged in home schooling, all while trying to remember to wash her hands, queuing for essentials (wine and cat food being at the top of the list) at the grocery store, and adjusting to life in her very isolated cottage with only Kate, her cat Flint, and a new neighbor for company. Because this is the beginning of the pandemic, reactions to it range from thinking it's a government hoax to clapping for care workers as cases increase, but only Ruth's Druid friend Cathbad seems to recognize the seriousness of the virus's threat. Meanwhile, the police are investigating a suspicious suicide, road work uncovers an ancient skeleton that stirs up talk of ghosts and The Plague, an old photograph of her mother's raises questions for Ruth, Ruth's new neighbor may not be who she claims to be, and the threat of death—both from the virus and from a murderer—are closer to Ruth and her friends than anyone realizes.

The Ruth Galloway novels are all set in contemporary times, so Griffiths couldn't avoid addressing the pandemic, and her characters' reactions are reminiscent of those we all lived through—and are somewhat jarring reminders of how used to the "new normal" we've all become. While the references to the pandemic threaten to overshadow the larger story in THE LOCKED ROOM, the mystery does prevail. All the usual characters from the previous novels are present, and some interesting newcomers arrive on the scene, as well. As in the previous novels, Ruth gets pulled into the main mystery revolving around the suspicious suicides, although she's a bit more removed from the investigation than she sometimes is—partly because of Covid and the new ways the police have to work. But Griffiths weaves in plenty of interesting subplots that are as intriguing as the main storyline, and Ruth is caught up in all of them as she goes about her day-to-day living. As the story builds, the slow burn turns into immediate threats that are believable and keep the pages turning. While everything is resolved by the end, Griffiths does raise some overarching, ongoing, universal questions, but she does it without getting deep or philosophical.

Overall, the novel can work as a standalone but, since it does build on previously developed characters, it will probably be richer for readers familiar with the cast. For those familiar with the series, THE LOCKED ROOM is a welcome addition, offering the appealing people, the pacing, the setting, and the ever-interesting lives and mysteries we've come to expect from Elly Griffiths and Ruth Galloway.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, May 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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