Friday, 26 February 2016

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths


published 2016



Woman in Blue 1


[Cathbad is looking for a cat in a churchyard]

He walks along the church path, the frost crunching under his feet.

And then he sees it. A tombstone near the far wall, glowing white in the moonlight, and a woman standing beside it. A woman in white robes and a flowing blue cloak. As Cathbad approaches, she looks at him, and her face, illuminated by something stronger than natural light, seems at once so beautiful and so sad that Cathbad crosses himself.

‘Can I help you?’ he calls. His voice echoes against stone and darkness. The woman smiles – such a sad, sweet smile – shakes her head and starts to walk away, moving very fast through the gravestones towards the far gate.

 
Woman in Blue 3

[Later, when a murder is being investigated, the police visit the Slipper Chapel]

Father Bill looks more worried than ever. The statue of the Virgin seems to be looking down on him, almost with embarrassment. She’s a definite presence in the room, over six foot of painted plaster, blonde hair, blue cloak…

‘We get a lot of strange people,’ says Father Bill. ‘This is a shrine after all.’


 
commentary: This is the eighth in Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series (several of them have been on the blog, along with two from her other series, the Mephisto books) and this one is as good as ever. The setting is particularly interesting: the religious pilgrimage destination of Walsingham, with its strange history and customs. Modern-day goings-on are linked with religious apparitions in the past. There are dead bodies of young women.

It’s a good and engaging plot, but as ever what I enjoy most is the characters: Harry Nelson, my favourite policeman of all time. Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist and woman after our own hearts. Catbhad, everyone’s favourite druid. As in:
‘There’s a man asking to see you. Looks a bit of a nutter, but he says he knows you.’
‘Cathbad,’ says Clough, without looking round.
And:
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a conventional family home, that is until Cathbad answers the door in his wizard’s robes, accompanied by a bull-terrier wearing a bandana.
[A lot of people don’t like crime stories written in the historic present, and I’m not a huge fan myself, but Griffiths gets away with it, and I would encourage potential readers not to be put off by this.]

There is a lot of discussion of religious matters, done in a fair-minded and respectful way – though as ever there are some good jokes:
‘It’s a pilgrimage,’ says Father Bill… ‘It’s to seek forgiveness for the sins of students everywhere.’
‘That’s a tall order,’ says Nelson.
Although Ruth and Nelson are the key characters, I like the way Griffiths steps back from her characters to be ironic about all of them:
They had got into an enjoyable discussion about wrongful arrests and general police brutality when Nelson spoilt it all by strolling up looking like a thundercloud.
The characters look back at the Zefirelli Jesus of Nazareth – with good-looking, blue-eyed Robert Powell playing Jesus. I remember that when the casting was announced, the actor was ‘living in sin’ with one of Pan’s People (troupe of dancers from Top of the Pops) and they felt they had to sneak off to a register office to get married in a hurry… I think Griffiths is a bit younger than I am, so probably wasn’t aware of these machinations – she would surely have included this detail if she’d known it.

I loved the combination of a real place, a look at religion, AND my favourite crime characters. I hope Elly Griffiths will go on writing these books forever.

The pictures are from guides to Walsingham.

















18 comments:

  1. Very glad to hear you enjoyed this, Moira. Like you, I think this is an excellent series. And Griffiths is one of the few authors from whom I don't mind the use of the historic present. Somehow...it works. So does the wry wit you see here and there - just often enough to appreciate it.

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    1. Yes, Margot, Griffiths is a joy to read - one of the best new authors of recent years.

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  2. I love this series, in particular, she's such a mess, in a good way. But having said that , this is not my favorite in the series.

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    1. I think Ruth is an-round wonderful character. I'm not sure which is my favourite - I think I might have to read them all again.

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  3. I do have the second in the series to read. Maybe sometime soon. I am glad you enjoy them so much.

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    1. I was thinking of you when I mentioned the historic present above...

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    2. You do point out some other appealing points of this book. There were several aspects of the first novel that just did not work for me, but maybe when I get to the one I have, I will enjoy it more because I know what to expect. Sometimes my expectations get in the way.

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    3. I know what you mean, and it's anyway hard to define exactly what makes a series so appealing to one person - and so not necessarily to another.

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  4. I love Ruth Galloway and her life, including the cottage in which she lives and its location. Harry Nelson is a cop one could like, too.

    I can't wait to read this entry in the series. But I will agree that the books have been a bit uneven, some better than others. It is still one of my favorite series and I will not miss any of the books.

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    1. Yes, that's exactly what I think too Kathy.

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  5. On rethinking male police officers, Guido Brunetti of the Venetian series by Donna Leon is my favorite intellectual commissario. And Dushan Zigic, a detective in Eva Dolan's series is starting to grow on me.

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    1. You see, I never got on with Brunetti - funny isn't it? And I keep meaning to read Dolan, as recommended by you and others.

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  6. I just finished the first in the series - looking forward to the rest....

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  7. I wonder why you don't like Brunetti. He is such a cerebral fellow, not prone to quick action or brutality. And he has friends and a stable family, an intellectual, opinionated spouse and lives in beautiful Venice. And the books always discuss social issues.

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    1. I like the Venice setting. I find Brunetti dogmatic and unsympathetic...

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  8. Glad you enjoyed this. I've never tried her books and don't think I will be breaking that duck. Too much other stuff.

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    1. I think EVERYONE should read her books, but you might be let off.

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