Quercus, £12.99. Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Janus Stone, By Elly Griffiths
Thursday 18 February 2010
Funny it's so difficult to find a doctor on call when pathologists seem to be queuing up to sort you out once you're dead. Here comes another one, but Ruth Galloway, expert in Roman remains, is a special creation. She isn't a sexless zombie in a starched white coat; she is really, messily, female. And she doesn't always get things right: her pregnancy is a big surprise. It's even more of a surprise to her puritanical parents.
Ruth and her lover, DCI Nelson, are believable beings at the centre of Elly Griffiths's archaeological mystery. Her pregnancy adds to the intensity of her feelings when the skeleton of a child is discovered under the doorway of an old house: a burial that might have been common in antiquity, when entrances were under the guardianship of the two-headed god, Janus, and the even more fearsome Hecate, to whom such sacrifices were made.
But this infanticide could have occurred nearer modern times, when the building was occupied by a children's home. Two small inhabitants were reported to have run away, leading to suspicions about the charismatic local priest in charge. Ruth lends her expertise to the search for the missing children, and finds a potential murderer amid a heady brew of classical lore and psychopathic revelations. The Iron Age excavation on which she is working is run by an archaeological prima donna (authentically depicted). Also hanging around the trenches are the former lord of the manor and a New Age spiritual adviser who turns out to be remarkably practical beneath his encumbrances of cloak and necklaces.
The setting is enticingly atmospheric: very flat, Norfolk may be, but it also has mysterious fogs and waterways that lead to a gripping chase, excellently interwoven with the Latin quotations and carbon-dating. Meantime, Ruth and her DCI face the big decisions: will she continue with her pregnancy, will he tell his wife? I closed the book wanting to know more about them as well as feeling the satisfaction that a really intelligent murder story can give.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?
- 2 Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
- 3 London council removes 'unacceptable' Stamford Hill posters telling women which side of the road to walk down
- 4 The response to my Pizza Express review has been overwhelming, and taught me a lot about journalism
- 5 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned into a PR disaster
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'