Fresh Blood

Name: Elly Griffiths

Title of Book: The Crossing Places

'...a debut novel that tries to strike out in a totally new direction. '

Ruth Galloway is an archaeological lecturer who is asked by an investigating officer, DCI Harry Nelson to look at some bones found in the marshes near a sacrificial henge. The bones turn out to be two thousand years old. News Nelson did not want to hear. He was hoping they were the bones of a girl who went missing ten years ago. Not the ideal conclusion, but enough to give her parents closure. But it is not meant to be.

Then another child disappears. A girl the same age as Lucy was when she vanished ten years ago. Why has the killer decided to act now after all these years? And why does he taunt Nelson with letters as to Lucy’s resting place? Soon, Ruth is caught up with the investigation and realises that she is standing in the eye of the storm, that she can trust nobody and she is in grave danger herself.

I am always drawn to a debut novel that tries to strike out in a totally new direction. Instead of being a forensic pathologist (of which there are currently plenty in crime fiction), Griffiths has decided to beat a different path. As an archaeologist, Griffiths can break new ground with her endearing character, Ruth Galloway. She is approaching forty, overweight and a solitary creature. Sounds bleak, but by the end of the novel, Ruth appears to have gone through a transformation and broken out of the cocoon she has spun around her for many years.

The archaeological information is given in digestible bite sized pieces and is extremely interesting. You can see the author has done her homework. But the information is given to the reader without feeling it is there simply because the research has been done. All the information is essential to the plot.

The investigation rockets along and is very compelling. I am not sure an archaeologist would be so involved in a real investigation, but Griffiths gets around this little problem by exploring the emotional ties that seem to bind the main characters throughout this book. The Crossing Places is a gripping debut which announces the arrival of a cast of characters that I am sure many will be following for the foreseeable future and an author to watch.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
Like a lot of writers, I’m always a bit wary of classifying myself by genre though I do know this is something publishers and booksellers have to do. I have written other books which may seem to belong to a very different genre but, to me, they are quite similar to The Crossing Places – similar characterisation, themes, writing style etc. However, if you look at the covers they seem a million miles apart. They would never be shelved next to each other in a book shop.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I love Victorian novels, all that intricate plotting and atmospheric writing. Even if they are not, strictly speaking, crime novels I think that Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins sewed the seed for all detective fiction. My ideal crime novel would be very atmospheric, with all the characters marooned in a spooky house somewhere. CJ Sansom’s Dissolution fits the bill perfectly. I enjoy series fiction because you can invest time getting to know the characters – Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake is one of the most interesting and complex creations in fiction today.
3) Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist. Her passion is very clearly and well demonstrated in the book. Have you specialist knowledge of archaeology?
My husband is an archaeologist and it was his interest in prehistory that first gave me the idea for The Crossing Places. He and his colleagues have helped a lot with my research. I find archaeology fascinating but am not sure that I could cope on a dig. Real archeology is very hard work and I would want a cappuccino break after about ten minutes…
4) Although fictitious, The Norfolk Saltmarsh depicted in The Crossing Places is very unforgiving and bleak. Does it resemble a part of the world you are familiar with? Do you love it - despite its bleakness - as much as Ruth Galloway?
The Saltmarsh is an amalgam of many places on the North Norfolk coast. I am very drawn to bleak scenery – sea and sky and marshland – I’m not quite sure why. I have always lived near the sea though and I don’t think that I could exist away from it. I love the sensation of looking into that endless horizon. I think it’s very good for the soul. I live near Brighton which is a little less mystic and a little more commercial than the Saltmarsh! My aunt lives in Norfolk though and we visit her every summer. I absolutely love the Norfolk coast even though it seems to rain all the time when we’re there.
5) The Henge in the book is steeped with folk tales from different times and different countries. Did you have to research the different stories or have tales from Norse legend et al always interested you?
I have always loved Norse legends. My mother used to tell me the stories when I was little and I suppose they have stayed with me. I did do extra research for the book though.
6) After reading the book I presume that we will be treated to the next stage in the relationship between Ruth Galloway and Inspector Harry Nelson...?
Yes. In the sequel, The Two-Faced God, Ruth and Nelson are once more involved in an investigation – this time into so-called ‘foundation sacrifices’, children’s bodies buried under the walls of Roman houses, supposedly for luck. Ruth’s circumstances mean that the case is especially poignant and her relationship with Nelson becomes increasingly uneasy.
7) How did you decide on the title, The Crossing Places? Are crossing places based on fact? Can you explain to people who haven’t read the book what a crossing place is?
Causeways and cursuses are based on fact. Prehistoric man thought that marshland, because it is neither land nor sea, was linked to the afterlife, neither life nor death but something in between. Therefore, crossing the marshland was a sacred and important act. People still talk about ‘crossing over’ from this life to the next. The title The Crossing Places refers both to the physical challenge of crossing the marshland but also to this symbolic crossing over. Apparently my foreign publishers have found it very difficult to translate!
8) Do you see any trends in Crime and Thriller novels for 2009 and beyond?
Apparently forensic archaeology is a trend though I honestly didn’t know this when I wrote the book! I think we might see a move away from blood and gore and towards the more cerebral detective.
9) Who would be your dream cast of movie actors for an adaptation of your story?
I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about this! I’d love to see Caroline Quentin as Ruth and David Morrissey as Nelson.
10) giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
I love it when authors don’t cheat at all. There is a Reginald Hill novel where he tells you the murderer’s name in the first line but you don’t realise it until much later.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Murder on the Orient Express with Albert Finney as an incredibly sinister Poirot.
12) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
Yes. I think crime fiction is desperately undervalued. Why hasn’t a crime novel ever won the Booker prize, for example? My favourite crime fiction writers are Reginald Hill, C.J. Sansom and Kate Atkinson. I think they are as good as anyone writing today.
13) What is your favourite read crime of all time
It has to be The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Wonderful descriptions, fantastic multi-person narration and, in Sergeant Cuff, one of the earliest and best of all detectives.