The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

Middle-aged hanky-panky…

🙂 🙂 😐

the ghost fieldsWhen developers start to dig up a field prior to building houses on it, the work is brought to a sudden halt by the discovery of a buried WW2 plane, complete with partially mummified corpse. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is called in, and spots something the police have unaccountably missed – a bullet hole in the corpse’s forehead. Immediately knowing (psychically) that this wound was not caused during an airfight, she leaps to the conclusion that the man was the victim of murder.

When Elly Griffiths is on form, she’s one of my favourite writers, so it saddens me to say that she is most definitely not on form in this book. The fundamental problem with amateur detectives in contemporary novels is that it becomes increasingly difficult for authors to find ways to link them to crimes. Griffiths has got round that in this one by really pretty much ignoring the crime and detection element, and writing a rather tired middle-aged love triangle instead – actually a love star, to be more accurate, since there are a total of five middle-aged people all either getting up to hanky-panky or wishing they could, usually with people other than their partners. Fascinating if anyone still cares whether Ruth and Nelson will ever get together, but I lost interest in that strand about four books ago. Ruth really has to stop hankering over someone else’s husband and move on, and in the last book I thought she might actually be about to do so. Sadly not.

The plot is both thin and full of holes, and drags on for ever with Nelson doing absolutely nothing towards actually solving the mystery. It shouldn’t really be too hard either. Given that the victim was murdered during the war, then the killer must be either dead or in his late ’80s at the youngest – narrows the field of suspects somewhat, don’t you think? So since we know from the start by a quick arithmetical calculation that we can exclude almost every character from suspicion, there’s not much tension. Except perhaps the tension of wondering how long it will be before Nelson and Ruth suss out what’s staring the rest of us in the face. But their inability to work it out means that there’s time for another murder to be done, finally expanding the field of suspects and throwing open the possibility that Nelson could start interviews or look for clues or stake people out or… well, something! But no, he sends off for DNA tests and we all wait and wait for them to come back, while the characters fill in the time with some fairly passionless flirting.

Oh dear! I could mention that the reason the body is in the field is silly and contrived, or that to go along with the no detection there is also no archaeology to speak of. I could sigh over the fact that the book is written in the usual tedious present tense (third person) which really is not suited to a book that takes place over a period of months, and which feels even clumsier in this book than usual. Or I could mention that Ruth’s low self-esteem and constant self-criticism become increasingly tedious as the series wears on – another thing I thought she was beginning to get over in the last outing. Oh! It appears I just did mention them!

Elly Griffiths
Elly Griffiths

On the upside, Griffiths, as always, creates a good sense of place in this bleak Norfolk landscape, and her characterisation of Ruth is excellent, even if I find the character progressively more irritating. And while the bulk of the book is a drag with nothing much happening except love/lust affairs, the thrillerish ending is well written and enjoyable. But I’m afraid overall I think this is one for die-hard fans only – it’s getting hosts of 5-stars, so it must be working for some people. But I think this fan has stopped being die-hard – the standard in the series seems to oscillate wildly from brilliant to pretty poor, and in my opinion it’s time to draw it to a close and for Griffiths to move on to something different. Her last book, The Zig Zag Girl, not a Ruth Galloway one, was far superior to this in every way.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Quercus.

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54 thoughts on “The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

  1. Sorry to hear this one wasn’t up to it for you, FictionFan. I don’t suppose any author can be on point all the time with each offering. I’m a fan of this series, so I’ll probably read it anyway. And I must admit I like novels where there’s a connection between present-day and past murders. Hmm…now I’m interested to know what I’ll think; I’ve read other reviews of it too that are great. Hmm….

    • This one’s getting lots of glowing reviews too. I guess it’s to do with the balance really – this one is about Ruth’s relationships much more than about crime, and that’s not really my thing. I do find this series one of the most variable I’ve read.

    • I find this series incredibly variable – some of them I’ve loved and others just seem as if she’s filling space. I agree – the last but one wasn’t great, and then the last one was, and now this one isn’t again…

  2. I’m starting to think I might go for The Zig-Zag Girl before reading this one…I’ve read a few reviews suggesting the recent books aren’t as good as the first two or three!

    • They go up and down. I thought she was really back on form in the last one, and then in this one she’s really off again – in my opinion. But it is getting loads of positive reviews. She has to work really hard to win me over to ignore her clunky use of present tense, and I prefer crime novels to be about crime rather than romance!

      • Oh me too – I’d never ever pick up a straight romance! I appreciate they live some “love interest”, but it’s far better if it’s a minor part of the novel – Jane Casey gets it just right with Maeve Kerrigan, imho! That Stalin book you’re reading looks great – but I fear it’d take me three months to get through it! I wish I could get through non-fic like you! 🙂

        • Yes, I like to know a little bit about their lives, but with some books their relationships become more imporatnt than the crime – which leaves me wondering why they don’t just write chick-lit.

          It’s good so far, but I’ll need to read more before I decide. I just set myself a small number of pages to read each day and get through them that way. I don’t let myself read fiction till I’ve read my daily allotment of fact… 😉

  3. Not for me. There used to be a long-running joke about the police and I.Q. tests- they only accepted candidates who failed. I have not, on the whole, found this to be true in real life, but it is a recurring theme in fiction – perhaps it applies to fictional forensic archaeologists as well.

  4. Oh how lovely – A series I am innocent of, and likely to remain so. Dusts the existing TBR and places pots of flowers on top of them, instead of another book. Safe, safe, safe at last! At least till your next post

  5. What a relief to return to a less than stellar review. I was afraid I’d have to start adding to the pile the first day back. I hope I didn’t miss anything while I was gone…..

    • Apart from the classics, I’m having a rubbish reading year on the whole – plenty of time for you to catch up. Don’t think you missed anything vital – welcome back! 🙂

  6. As I read your reviews I think where we differ is definitely the balance between the life outside the crime detection and the actual crime – I did enjoy this one, I liked the past and the initial finding of the body although I was a little bit sceptical with the why element… great review as always.

    • Yes, I think you’re right. To be honest, this one reads to me like middle-aged chick-lit with a crime tacked on, not very securely. And it’s intriguing to see that in the positive reviews on Amazon, women outnumber men by a factor of about ten to one, whereas the more negative reviews are primarily from men. I’m afraid for my tastes, crime in general has become too much about the lives of the detectives and too little about the actual crime and detection. I quite often find that a couple of days after reading I can’t remember whodunit, what they did or why. But I can remember the detective’s love-life…

    • I enjoyed the first couple in the Ruth Galloway series and one or two since – the problem is it’s so variable, and there is a running story arc about the endless non-relationship between Ruth and Nelson so they really are better read in order. However her last book The Zig Zag Girl was the first in a new historical crime series set just after WW2, and I thought it was great, so maybe that would be a good one to try out… 🙂

  7. This doesn’t sound like something I’d particularly enjoy, FF, so thanks for your frank review. The premise caught my attention, but all that lust-and-love appears to be filler, perhaps to cover the author’s failure to do the necessary research on history, crime scene development, etc.

    • Yes, the crime felt very much like it was only there as a hook to hang the book on. It’s a pity because she really can write, but sometimes the books feel as if she’s just churned them out relying on her existing fanbase to carry them. I get more annoyed with a mediocre book from someone I admire than a bad book from someone I don’t…

  8. Hmmm…well, I’m sorry that this one didn’t work very well for you. I do understand coming to that point in a series. I’ve done it myself. That being said, I am one who gets connected to the characters, wants to see what comes next, and then can forgive a lot in the mystery angle because of my fondness for the protagonist. I suspect I will be one who will like it a lot because I’m very, very fond of Ruth. We’ll see how it goes. And honestly, this would never be a series that my husband would read anyway – this in response to the male/female disparity in good reviews. We have very few series that we share, but the ones we do, I’m usually wanting to know about what happened to the characters (the drama as he calls it) and he’s ready for more action. LOL

    • I like to know what happens to the detectives in their lives too, but I think it’s the balance in this particular series that annoys me – it’s so weighted to Ruth’s life that the crimes are just thrown in as an afterthought. In some of them, at least – others I’ve thought were great. But the Ruth/Nelson scenario drives me mad because it hasn’t actually moved in about the last five books. I wish she would either get them together or finish them completely. But it’s getting masses of 5-star reviews, so I do hope you enjoy it more than I did. I suspect my taste in crime is out of step with what’s being produced these days. It either seems to be about the detectives’ lovelives or graphic and gruesome. I fall somewhere in-between…

  9. Ooh I couldn’t read this review as I’m currently reading the series in order and have just finished Dying Fall but I have just read the comments which I feel give a feel for the review without maybe throwing in an unknown spoiler… And it seems it’s one of the ‘off’ books where there’s little crime in it. I’m finding this with reading this series. She has a great USP with a forensic archeologist as a protagonist rather than having a cop and that’s what I want to read about, murder and bones and the history of the bones, but it does often seem missing. I just reviewed Dying Fall and the first half of the book was too slow for me as it focused on Ruth personally. Once it got into murder and crime Griffiths really can write a great book!

    • Yes, I found that with Dying Fall too. The next one was much better, you’ll be glad to hear, and then this one falls off again. I don’t think I’ve ever read another series where the quality is so variable. I’ve got no objection to chick-lit, but if that’s what she wants to write, I wish she wouldn’t market it as crime! I think I’m probably finished with the Ruth Galloway books now, but loads of people are still loving them – so as always, just a matter of taste…

  10. You know, I’m thinking this shouldn’t be a mystery at all. If the chap was that successful in the murder–I’m picturing that he committed the murder, then wrecked the plane, then escaped–they should just let him go. It’s really quite a feat.

    Anyway…what sort of plane was it?

  11. I REALLY enjoy your negative reviews. I feel a teensy bit bad though, because they mean that you’ve had to sit through an awful book. But they’re so funny/entertaining! Thank you for this. 🙂

  12. I’m so pleased to have found your review – I’m used to being out of step with the majority but it’s always nice to know I’m not completely alone in the wilderness. I’ve just finished this one and really wondered why I bothered. Well Ruth is why I know that. But the rest is a snooze 🙂

    • Ha! I’m pleased too, to hear that I’m not alone! There was just so little crime or archaeology in this one that it was more like reading a middle-aged romance novel than anything else. Which I suppose is fine if you happen to like middle-aged romance novels! It’s a pity because she really does have the skill to create great characters and a sense of place, but she just sometimes seems to forget to put a plot in…

  13. Ghost Fields bothered me because of its blatantly wrong historical details about the air war. The pilot in the buried plane was wearing a cap, but a WWII pilot would have worn a leather helmet with goggles. The book described WWII pilots who were shot down as ‘ejecting.’ Ejection seats did not come into use until the jet age in Korea. The book describes ‘B-24 Liberators’ and German Dornier bombers dogfighting. Never happened. Liberators and Dorniers would never have encountered each other in the air. Bombers flew straight and level to their targets with rival fighter pilots dogfighting around them. Historical failures like this make me crazy and ruin the reading experience.

    • Yes, that kind of thing bothers me too, though in this case I know nothing about the details of planes and the air war in general, so didn’t spot the issues you have. I do think that if an author is going to write a book with historical elements, it’s important to get the facts straight though. This one failed the credibility test for me when the police apparently failed to spot the big hole in the victim’s forehead…

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