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by Elly Griffiths
Quercus, January 2012
352 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 1849163669

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

You know what you're getting when you pick up an Elly Griffiths novel bones, archaeology, Norfolk, relationship angst and oodles and oodles of atmosphere. She's a writer to read with the light on. I went to bed convinced I'd be dreaming of headless horsemen.

A ROOM FULL OF BONES is the fourth book to feature archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway. Ruth isn't your usual female lead who survives on lettuce leaves and running ten miles a day before breakfast she's a comfortably-sized woman who likes her food. And despite her ragged private life, she's a professional to her unpolished fingertips.

This time out she's in King's Lynn on Halloween to witness the opening of a coffin containing the bones of a medieval bishop. But when Ruth arrives, she finds the museum curator lying dead beside the coffin.

Enter, stage left, DCI Harry Nelson. He and Ruth are old sparring partners and a one-night stand between them produced Kate, now aged one. Their ever-rocky relationship is further complicated by the fact Nelson's wife Michelle has finally clicked as to who fathered the child.

Investigations unveil the fact that the museum's owner Danforth Smith has received threatening letters from the mysterious Elginists, demanding that Aboriginal skulls stored in the museum be returned to their homeland. Then a dead snake found on his doorstep ups the ante.

A ROOM FULL OF BONES is, in some ways, a rather loosely-structured book, with the story being seen through the eyes of Ruth, Nelson, DS Judy Johnson and various members of the Smith family. Aside from the death in the museum, there's also drug-dealing, racing stables and Ruth's mysterious new neighbour Bob Woonunga in the mix, aided and abetted by her friend and druid Cathbad, a man who can be guaranteed to pop up where you least expect him.

The book's strengths are, as ever, Griffiths' ability to conjure up thoroughly believable people and to ensure that the myths and legends which steep the story never spill over into woo-woo. But it's a risk not to keep a strong character like Ruth as the main focus and the book suffers for it.

And, more than ever, I wish Griffiths hadn't chosen to write these books in the present tense not only do you have a pretty shrewd idea that our heroes telling the tale will emerge intact, but it's also intrusive and Griffiths ends up being backed into some clunky prose corners as a result when she has characters musing over incidents that have gone before. It's the one thing that continues to grate in an otherwise engaging series.

Sharon Wheeler is a UK-based journalist, writer and lecturer.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, March 2012

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