When I started reading The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths I nearly didn’t bother carrying on because it’s written in the present tense, but I’m glad I did because I did enjoy it and at times didn’t even notice the tense. This is a debut crime fiction novel, even though it’s not the author’s first book.
Set in Norfolk it’s an interesting mix of investigations into a cold case – the disappearance of Lucy, a five year old girl ten years earlier and a current case of another missing four year old girl. Are they connected and just how does the discovery of a child’s bones from the Iron Age fit in? The police ask Dr Ruth Galloway, who lectures in archaeology at the local university and lives near the finds in a remote cottage at Saltmarsh overlooking the North Sea, to date the bones. She becomes more involved when DI Harry Nelson asks her to look at the anonymous letters the police have received ever since Lucy disappeared – strange letters full of archaeological, biblical and literary references, taunting the police about Lucy’s whereabouts and details of ritual sacrifice.
There’s a satisfying amount of information about Ruth’s earlier life and just enough about the archaeological digs to whet my appetite, plus some whacky characters like Cathbad who lives in a decrepit caravan on the beach. I liked Harry Nelson, a gruff northerner obsessed by Lucy’s disappearance and I became very fond of Ruth, an overweight woman nearing forty who lives on her own with two cats. I found the setting in Norfolk in winter with its immense skies was very atmospheric – its remoteness, treacherous mud flats, marshlands and driving rain made feel as though I was there. In fact there were parts of the story involving quicksand that reminded me of Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, in which Rosanna Spearman drowns in quicksand on the marshes and there is a remarkable similarity between the names of Sergeant Cuff (in The Moonstone) and Sergeant Clough (in The Crossing Places).
The mystery isn’t too difficult to solve and I’d guessed the culprit quite early on in the book, so the ending wasn’t a surprise. I thought there were maybe just one too many coincidences in the connections between the characters, but none of this spoilt the book for me and I’m adding the next Ruth Galloway book, The Janus Stone to my list of books to look out for.