Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Janus Stone: Elly Griffiths

This is the second book in the series featuring forensics archaeologist Ruth Galloway. Ruth lives in Norfolk in an isolated cottage on the saltmarsh. She is called in as an expert when the bones of a young child are found on a building site where an old Victorian home is being torn down to be replaced by luxury apartments.

The two main characters in this series are Ruth and Harry Nelson. Harry is a policeman, a Detective Chief Inspector in the Norwich police force. They are thrown together working on cases when Ruth is called in to consult or give evidence when human bones are discovered. Harry and Ruth experience a connection almost immediately, but Harry is married with two teenage girls, and the relationship is awkward because of that. This is a major part of the stories (at least so far).


The archaeological background in this story is interesting; at first the age of the skeleton is not known. The building site was previously a children's home, run by the Catholic church. Prior to that it was a family home. The bones could be from either time period, or much earlier.

I have a few quibbles with this book, but none of them are serious. Ruth is a believable amateur sleuth, in my opinion, as her job puts her in situations where she will get involved with murder, but she ends up in threatening or dangerous situations too much (for me).

The other complaint is that the book is written in present tense, and that just isn't comfortable reading for me. In this book, the present tense style seems even more pervasive than in other books I have read that were written in that style. Because I wanted to read this book and I did not want to hate the experience, I tried a new approach. I decided to read it in a meditative way, reading each sentence slowly and paying attention. (This is not my usual style; I read fast and often miss details.) The meditative approach worked for me. I would find myself getting lost in the story and then whenever the present tense pulled me out again, I would move back to the slower, more attentive mode of reading.

On the positive side, the characters are interesting and funny at times. Ruth's parents and her co-workers are portrayed in very realistic ways and her relationships with all of them are very believable. The reader is privy to both Ruth and Harry's thoughts and opinions and that works really well for me. The unfolding story of their lives is told with humor and wit.

The series is very popular and I definitely recommend it, but I feel it is important to start with the first book. Because this book revolves so much around the personal lives of the main characters, I don't see getting much enjoyment from the books without knowing the backstory. I definitely want to know what is coming next in the lives of the characters and I will continue the series.

These are my husband's comments when he reviewed the book at Goodreads:
I enjoy mysteries that involve events in the past impacting the present and this compelling (and complicated) plot delivers. The personal issues of the main character are a bit too melodramatic this time though.
Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist... has an excellent overview of The Crossing Places, the first book in the series. Also see my review of that book.

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Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010
Length:    327 pages
Format:    Hardback
Series:     Ruth Galloway #2
Setting:    Norfolk, UK
Genre:     Mystery
Source:   Originally my husband's book; he passed it on to me.

22 comments:

  1. This is one of my favourite ongoing crime series. That they're written in the present tense seems not to bother me at all but I know it bothers plenty of people, so you're not alone. Yes... definitely best to read these in order. I enjoy the various investigations but I find the backstory of Ruth and Harry even more interesting.

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    1. Cath, I wish that present tense did not bother me, more books tend to be written like that. It does seem like many readers are into this series for Ruth and Harry's story and that is a compliment to the author, I am sure.

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  2. You've perhaps made me reconsider whether I should try at least one in the series, so I can see for myself. I'll have to think about it.

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    1. I am always in favor of trying out an author to see for yourself, Col. This is not your usual gritty fare, but the personalities are interesting and it is different.

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  3. I would be curious to see what happens if your husband continues with this series as it gets more and more focused on the personal lives of Ruth, Harry etc. I keep thinking each one is the last one I'll bother with as I really am bored by all the bed-hopping and middle-aged angst but I do like the mysteries and have just bought the latest one in the series

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    1. I don't think he will continue with the series, Bernadette, although I think he would enjoy the mysteries with the archaeological background. He is more into that side of it than I am. For myself, I will just try a book at a time in the series and see how I feel at the end of each book.

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  4. I like this series a lot. I like the archeology aspect, Ruth's strange friends, and the complicated relationship she and Harry have. I'm waiting for the newest one in the series, The Chalk Pit. I'm in line for it at my library.

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    1. There are some elements in these books that bug me, Joan, but in balance there are more good than bad aspects. So I look forward to more of the series.

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  5. I know exactly what you mean, Tracy, about the book's style. One does have to read the books in that meditative way to get the most from them, in my opinion. I'm glad you were able to find you could enjoy this one when you did that.

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    1. This was quite a discovery for me, Margot, to overcome my distaste for the present tense writing at least for a while. I have always thought I need to read more slowly but I can never accomplish that for long.

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  6. I've enjoyed the first three although I too know what you mean about too much personal melodrama going on. I recall I was particularly annoyed that the book ended on some sort of cliffhanger that turned out not to be one really - it seemed like a bit of a damp squib when I read the next one.

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    1. I go back and forth on how much personal life of the characters I like in a mystery, Katrina. I guess I usually don't like it if the mystery of the ongoing relationships is more prominent than the mystery plot. I guess it depends on the author's writing in the end.

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  7. Tracy, it's commendable that you read books through a series. It's how I'd like to read too.

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    1. Thanks, Prashant. The problem nowadays is that I have found so many authors I like (with series) that I cannot keep up.

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  8. I'm purposely NOT reading your post, Tracy because I'm reading the first book in this series and don't want to learn what happens next too soon.
    I'm not sure if I'm going to like or not, but everyone says she's great.
    I also got the first book in her new magic series too. We'll see how that goes.

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    1. I don't blame you, Yvette, I only skim posts if they are about books I want to read in the future. I want to come into a book with as little knowledge as possible. I do hope you like the first book; I am not as enthusiastic as some but when I read the books I want to come back for more.

      I will be interested on your take on the other series; I want to try it but have not purchased a copy.

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  9. This is one of my favourite current series - I always want to read the latest Galloway book the moment it comes out, or even better in a review copy. I am often irritated by too much personal life angst, but in this particular case I ALMOST prefer the daily life stuff - I would happily read a straight novel about Ruth and Harry. But then I also love Cathbad, and her other friends... There are no downsides to this series for me.

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    1. This author keeps me coming back for more, Moira, and I will see if that continues. I have book 3 from Glen, and I will look for book 4 at the book sale.

      I do find it odd that I can handle more personal stuff in some series of books than others. After all, part of the point of a series is to get to know some of the characters over time, or at least enjoy the central character's traits.

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  10. I'm with Moira at Clothes in Books. I love Ruth Galloway and this series. I think given the cliffhanger at the end of book 9 (The Chalk Pit) and that the next is the 10th book that it may be the end of the series and resolve the personal relationship complexities.
    I will be heart-broken if this series ends on the next book.
    I love reading about Ruth, Harry, Kate, Cathbad, Judy, etc.
    And that and Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti series and Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski series are my favorite series and I want to know about the characters.
    Yes, this is one series that must be read in order or the characters' lives will be too confusing -- as they change.

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    1. I do hope I keep enjoying the books in the series as much as you do, Kathy. I am also looking forward to reading more about V.I. Warshawski and getting to know the characters better.

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  11. As a friend just told me, she read Sara Paretsky's latest book, "Fallout," and just enjoyed every page. I told her it's like eating chocolate ice cream and enjoying every bit of it.

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    1. I don't know that I want to read that far ahead into the series, I should read some of the earlier ones first. But I look forward to it.

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