The Woman in Blue (Ruth Galloway 8) by Elly Griffiths

the woman in blueTime to say goodbye…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Cat-sitting for a friend in Walsingham, one night Cathbad sees a woman in a blue robe standing in the graveyard behind the house. Being a druid with mystical tendencies, Cathbad thinks he’s had some kind of vision – until the next day the body of a young woman in night clothes and a blue dressing gown is found in a ditch. Harry Nelson and his team quickly discover she was a patient at a nearby rehab clinic and so their investigation is focused there. But then another murder takes place, this time of a woman priest attending a conference in the town. The two crimes have enough in common for Nelson to suspect that they are linked…

The Ghost Fields, Ruth Galloway’s last outing, left me disappointed and thinking that it was time for Griffiths to draw this series to a close. However, since the series has always been variable, some excellent, some pretty poor, I decided to stick around for one more book, to see whether Griffiths could find her old form. And there’s no doubt that the plot of this one is a considerable step-up from the last one. There is, at least, a mystery in this and some actual detective work.

However, all the usual problems remain. Firstly, it’s still written in third person present tense, and somehow it feels clunkier with every book. The ancient off-off non-love non-affair between Ruth and Nelson rumbles on, going nowhere as always. I spent a lot of time wondering what on earth either Ruth or Nelson’s wife could see in this rather neanderthal, bad-tempered, somewhat obnoxious man – nope, it’s a mystery! (In fact, Ruth herself is constantly objecting to his macho, hectoring style – what exactly is it about him that she’s supposed to love?) I know some people like this aspect of the books, but I’ve been hoping that Ruth would move on for about five books now – she seems increasingly pathetic as time goes on, constantly hankering after someone else’s husband.

The major problem is that there is a limit to how many police investigations credibly require help from an archaeologist. In this one, Griffiths makes no real attempt to bring Ruth in officially. Instead, one of the women priests attending the conference just happens to be an old friend of Ruth’s so, when she starts receiving threatening letters, of course she takes them to Ruth. Well, if you were being threatened, of course you’d go to an archaeologist you knew vaguely from University decades ago rather than to the police, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t? No, neither would I.

With Walsingham having a long history as a site of pilgrimage, there is a lot about religion in the book, Christianity in general and more specifically Anglo-Catholicism. Griffiths writes about religion as if it’s an odd thing to see priests or nuns on British streets – we may not be the most ultra-religious country in the world, but she makes it sound about as unlikely as seeing witchdoctors or aliens. Ruth is a hardened atheist, but from a very religious family, while Nelson was brought up by a strict Catholic mother, and yet neither of them seems to know basic things about Christian practices or history.

Elly Griffiths Photo: Jerry Bauer
Elly Griffiths
Photo: Jerry Bauer

The plot is actually quite intriguing for most of the book, and when it concentrates on the murders and investigation it’s an enjoyable read. However, Griffiths then throws it all away at the end by making the whole dénouement dependant on a couple of the characters having sudden flashes of inspiration at just the right moment, based on absolutely nothing. And when all is explained, the whole thing is not just highly unlikely but pretty silly.

So, people who enjoy the ongoing Ruth-Nelson saga will probably enjoy this, but for me this series is well past its sell-by date, I’m afraid. I can only hope that Griffiths decides to concentrate on her new, excellent, Stephens and Mephisto series instead, send Nelson back to his poor wife (though does she deserve that?) and let Ruth retreat to academia where she belongs.

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

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63 thoughts on “The Woman in Blue (Ruth Galloway 8) by Elly Griffiths

  1. Oh, I’m sorry to hear that this one disappointed you, FictionFan. To be honest, I’m a fan of this series, although I agree it’s not without its faults. You raise some solid issues with the series, though, and I understand exactly what you mean. I’ll probably still follow it, though – just call me loyal, I suppose…

    • I know – it’s loyalty that’s kept me with the series for so long, but it just ends up meaning I keep giving fairly negative reviews. I’m really going to make an effort to stop reading this series and keep my fingers crossed she does more of the Stephens and Mephisto books…

  2. I’m not this far along in the series, but I remember thinking, as you say, how many cases need an archaeologist? I suppose that’s a problem you face when you choose to make your protagonist a peripheral figure, rather than a police officer.

    • I know – it works fine for the first couple but it gets increasingly unlikely. That’s why I always think something like a lawyer or forensic pathologist works better. However, don’t let me put you off – loads of people still love this series. Part of the problem for me is just that I really dislike the present tense more and more…

    • Like most Americans, I wanted to be Indiana Jones when I grew up. Then I learned that being an archaeologist involves sitting in piles of dirt, begging for money, and trying to keep businesses from plowing over your dig site. Mostly, it’s lonely, tedious, and dirty. The fact that writers and filmmakers have made the job so exciting is awesome for creating an interest in history, but it’s a far cry from the reality!

      • We all became obsessed with archaelogy because of a prigramme called Time Team – don’t know if you ever got it on your side of the Atlantic. Every week they’d dig up some shard of pottery and create an entire (and, I always felt, entirely mythical) theory about the people who must have once lived there. It was a huge hit – required Sunday night viewing… 😉

  3. See? Relationships are such problematic problems. They should be avoided, I say. Now, if I was being threatened I just might grab my katana. This is why you should have one, see. You can grab it and swing it about. It’s good for that sort of thing. I shall get you one for Christmas. If you get me a beanie.

    Is she in jail? I mean, look at the bars behind her!!

    • They should be! Except for me and Rafa obviously. And me and George. I suspect a katana would certainly be more effective than swinging an archaelogist around! Also easier. Can I have the jewelled one, please? The real one, though… *narrows eyes* And I shall knit you a beanie in the Pats colours!

      *laughs* Sayin’ nothin’, ‘cos…

      • Well, yes. You can date Rafa, if you want. And maybe George. But didn’t he just get married? Doesn’t matter. He’ll be divorced in a few weeks, I’m thinking. Yes, you may! Well, the jeweled one did break, remember. It’s sorta…well…not meant for real fighting. I’ll get you a better one. That is so cool! I’d wear it all the time, of course.

        Aha! Bet she wrote it in jail.

  4. My next door neighbour is an archaeologist, but that’s beside the point. I for one am delighted that we don’t see nuns wandering the streets. As for the book, I might give this one a miss. The review was fun, though!

  5. If I ever write a thriller, I’m giving it to you first to comb through for plot holes, inconsistencies and unrealistic shenanigans! (Don’t try and change your email now…) You know, I think the real mystery here is why authors continue to drag out their own stories and not start fresh. So many series seem based on an author’s unwillingness to take new risks with characters and world building.

    • Haha! You’re very brave! But I do sometimes think beta readers must be too polite… I probably would be too! Strange how much easier it is to criticise in a review rather than directly… I know, I often wonder if they get put under a lot of pressure by their publishers to stick to the tried and tested. Readers do seem to like long-running series, including me usually, but if it runs out of steam then move on, I say!

      • Naw, I’d want you to rip me to shreds like any respectable beta reader! I’d throw a quick tantrum (I’m allowed, poor, poor me), then I get back to work and fix every problem until I left you with a five smiley face review! Plus, I’d bribe you will lots of chocolate. (Don’t worry, not American chocolate.)

        • Haha! It would remind me of the annual staff performance appraisals at work – an experience that I blame for my need to use hair dye! The worst was always when I thought I was being quite generous and complimentary and the person on the receiving end would seem to think I was doing a Cruella de Vil impersonation! *shudders* I’ve always thought Burns was wrong with his ‘Wad some power the giftie gie us tae see oursels as ithers see us!” 😉

          • Haha! Yes, not a gift I’m inclined to accept…readily. 🙂

            I was going to start my thriller today, called The Panama Papers, but oddly enough it was taken this morning! (I suspect we may be living in a fictional world…) Haha!

            • Haha! Sometimes I wish we were! Our poor Prime Minister got caught up in the Panama thing – he really didn’t do anything wrong except be rich *spits*, but now all the top politicians are having to reveal their tax returns – it’s great fun! Like snooping without having to snoop!

  6. I haven’t seen a nun for ages. Nuns, there have been none. Surely there is a new crime series to be written by someone, FictionFan, mentioning no names, where the person who the police call in to help them is a chocolatiere. In fact, fine quality chocolate made available to the boys in blue would, I’m sure, really help in the solving of crimes. DARK chocolate only (if the cocoa content is high, and the sat fat and sugar content is low) has all sorts of useful compounds within. You might have to do research for your series, and I recommend Hotel Chocolat. I think there is an outlet in Glasgow, if not there is one in Edinburgh

    • I don’t often see them either, but there’s probably more Catholicism up here still than down south. Ooh, but how distracting would that be! Who’d care whodunit? We’d all be more interested in whoateit! Bet there is already a series – you don’t read cosies, but there’s a cosy series for everything – cookie-bakers, cake-bakers etc etc usually with recipes included. And sewing ones, knitting ones, quilting ones – you name it! Anyway I think it’s time we had some Fancifull Fiction! *nods vehemently*

  7. Well, another one bites the dust. You’re on a roll! But at least there’s a fine alternative series to turn to. And perhaps that’s where the author’s heart currently resides, anyway.

    • I’ve had a long run of ugh or meh books recently… it must change soon or I shall throw a tantrum! I do love her other series though – I often wonder if it’s the publishers who insist on authors continuing on with series past their natural end. But lots of people still enjoy this one, so it’s probably just me. Again…

      • Don’t ever begin to doubt your opinions. Your readers’ lives need the enrichment. 😀 I do agree with you. An author can be on contract for any number of books in a series and run out of things to do/say with that particular group of characters.

        • Haha! But the authors might get up a petition at this rate! 😉 Yes, it’s a pity – especially in this case when she’s already got another good series she could be working on…

  8. Thanks for this post which is very timely for me as I started to read The Ghost Fields yesterday and felt reluctant to read it – that present tense really doesn’t work for me.So that’s it – book abandoned and no desire to read any more, but I do like her other series. Shame about the Ruth books as I enjoyed them at first after I’d got over the use of the present tense.

    • I always tried to overlook the present tense but my aversion to it seems to be growing – I find it so clunky, especially in this series for some reason. And the crime and detection element of Ghost Fields was so much in the background it did feel more like chick-lit than crime to me. This one was better… but not better enough, I’m afraid. Thank goodness for the Stephens and Mephisto books!

    • I think with this one it really depends on how the reader feels about the whole Ruth/Neslon storyline, and I’m just a bit tired of it. But I’m really glad she’s got the other series going, because I do enjoy her writing…

  9. This one sounds disappointing, but kudos to you for wading through it! Sounds like the author has done a lot of the things I’ve heard were inadvisable — such as that third-person present, a too-convenient denouement, an unappealing main character, and continuation of a series that should be put to bed. Oh, well, cross it off your TBR and move on!

    • Yes, it’s a pity because this was one of my favourite series for a while, which is why I keep reading them. But I must stop – it’s been a few books now since I really enjoyed one. But her new series is great – entirely different in style, and avoids all these problems…

    • It’s a pity because for a while I loved this series, which is why I keep reading them – but I must stop now, and just wait for her books in her other series. I started the Yann Martel book last night and it’s looking very hopeful… 😀

  10. Great review! The problem with any detective series that features a detective who isn’t a police officer/other professional is that the average person doesn’t come across very many murders. After a while wouldn’t you start to wonder if you were the problem?

    • Haha! I must admit I’ve always suspected that Miss Marple was a serial killer who got away with it by incriminating other people! 😉 But these amateur detectives really never work as well in modern crime – too unbelievable.

  11. I’m sorry this book was a disappointment. I totally understand about your frustration; some series get better and better while some simply drags and don’t hold our interest anymore. I’d hate that to happen to my favourite series. I haven’t read this series so I’ll probably give it a miss or simply be selective of the books for this series.

    • I know – I hate when it happens to a series I’ve enjoyed, and it makes me going on reading the books in the hopes it’ll get back to the early standard. In this case, it’s just because there’s only so many way to involve an archaelogist in an investigation, so it gets more unbelievable each time. Oh, well! But I do highly recommend her new series – the main character is a policeman so the same problem shouldn’t arise!

  12. Oh dear. Well, it sounds like perhaps the author has moved on in some ways. I have to laugh at this: “The major problem is that there is a limit to how many police investigations credibly require help from an archaeologist.” Ha ha! I have trouble suspending disbelief in some aspects.

    • Haha! I know – that’s always the problem with these amateur detectives. Starts out as a great idea in book 1, but by book 8… 😉 But yes, her new series is great and the main character is a policeman, so the same problem shouldn’t arise…

  13. In total agreement with you on this one! As much as I like this series, I have become increasingly fatigued by Ruth’s extreme wooliness in her relationship with the singularly un-alluring Nelson. Why woman why, indeed? Like you I am rather intrigued to see how Griffiths’ new series progresses…

    • I really though she’d moved on when she met Frank a couple of books back – the nearest thing to George Clooney in Norfolk, as Griffiths described him. Who’d dump that in favour of Nelson??? Maybe it’s her archaeological side that makes her like his prehistoric behaviour…

      But I do like the new series a lot! (Past tense – yay!!)

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