TNC & the Great Detectives: The Moderns – Ruth and Harry

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The members of the Tuesday Night Club are Golden Age Crime fiction fans who like to do some joint blogging: this time to mark the publication of a book called The 100 greatest Literary Detectives, edited by Eric Sandberg. We decided to come up with our own list, and we are each blogging on as many sleuths as we can. Bev at My Readers Block, who created the excellent logo, is of the opinion there will be 50-ish...

And, perhaps appropriately, this will be my last post for a week or so, because I am off to the Edgars ceremony, the awards run by the Mystery Writers of America. I will report back in due course...
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The great Invisible Event did his usual summary post this week, and you can find his previous week roundups over there too.

My first entry was on Marriageable Single Women Detectives

Week 2 was The Spinster Sleuths, Marple vs Silver

Week 3 looked at the  mid-century: Patricia Moyes’ Henry & Emmy Tibbett, and Nicholas Blake’s Nigel Strangeways.

To round off my list, I am looking at my favourite sleuthing couple – and some very modern books:

Dr Ruth Galloway & Harry Nelson

I read  my first Elly Griffiths book in 2010 (pre-blog days) It was The Crossing Places, which was just out in paperback. I was rather suspicious of any new series in those days, not prepared to buy hardbacks (were they more expensive then? Did we know less about them beforehand?) but a paperback seemed worth a punt. I feared it might be just another gimmicky series – Ruth Galloway was a forensic archaeologist, and I feared that she would be just a collection of quirks and little carefully-chosen character traits, with no doubt a troubled personal life and a boring romance.

So I took the book home and read it. The next day I bought the second of the series in hardback, desperate to know what was going to happen to the characters, ready to read any more stories from this author. Since then I have read every one of the books on publication day or before, and will confidently say that Ruth and Harry are my favourite ever sleuthing couple.

Dr Ruth Galloway is a delight. She is clever, funny, and a most realistic mixture of self-confidence and doubt. She worries about her life, her appearance, her child Kate, her relationship with Harry, her career and her colleagues. But she also knows how to enjoy herself, is always good at her job, she knows what she is doing.

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My claim is that Harry Nelson is the thinking woman’s policeman crush: he’s a man I’d like to have around at times of trouble, and though he’d be terrible at a dinner party, I’d still like him to come. He’s unreconstructed, he is not politically correct,  he doesn’t know what to make of some aspects of the modern world – but he is a generous and big-hearted man, kind and empathetic, and a really good cop. Between them, he and Ruth can solve anything.

They are surrounded  by excellent friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Dave – Cloughy - is turning out to be more nuanced than at first seemed the case. Judy is always intriguing. Michelle, Harry’s wife, always gets her fair turn. And above all there is Cathbad – druid, spiritual adviser and practical friend, he is one of the great characters in literature. Hilariously funny, mad as a hatter, and someone else I’d like to invite to dinner.
In fact, I’d like all of them at one great dinner party.

Ruth and Harry’s personal lives are something else – it’s a very complicated business which I won’t go into here – although I will just say that Elly Griffiths has revealed on Twitter that she is half way through writing the next book, and that a child has just been born. How can she tempt and tease us so much....?

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When the most recent book, The Dark Angel, came out earlier this year, I wrote briefly about the book, but then used my post to analyse why I liked this series so much. In blatant self-plagiarism, I am going to reproduce some of that post here, as I haven’t changed my mind…

There are ten books now - they are all over the blog - and I have loved every one of them without reservation. These books have so much to offer – I love the historical details, and the rounded characters: although Ruth is definitely the protagonist, others get their point of view, and everyone is presented as having normal faults – but they are not judged.

The books are also hilariously funny, with the characters’ interactions working in a way we understand after 10 books.

And Elly Griffiths does all this without having undue gruesomeness or those horrible descriptions of violence to women that are so prevalent: there are murders, but they are not sickening, though these books are anything but cozy. I love Griffiths’ basically liberal, good-hearted view of the world.

Her character portrayal is wonderful: over and over again in the books I admire the way the author gives people real, inconsequential thoughts: she gets inside heads as varied as Cathbad, everyone’s favourite druid, and Dave the (apparently) archetypal tough policeman.

She features people who don’t usually appear in this kind of (for want of better words) intellectual, or literary-minded mystery – certainly not in key roles. Harry and Michelle are a fascinating couple, because they are so normal, so apparently straightforward: he is no Morse, and Michelle is a hairstylist, she is no Ruth. But they are lovely, written in a totally unpatronizing way, without the need to suddenly make them start reading Proust or learning Ancient Greek. Nelson is unreconstructed, he is a good man, although the jury is out on whether he is actually sexist, but what he is NOT, is, manipulated by the author to show some different and unconvincing side of him. He is one of the most rounded and real characters I have ever read. And Michelle too – one of my favourite bits of the entire oeuvre comes in a short story Griffiths wrote about Ruth at Christmas (
a sweet seasonal gem that I re-read every year):

[Ruth] suddenly feels a great affection for Michelle. In fact, she almost wishes that she could spend Christmas with her. Michelle would cook for her and buy her stocking presents.

This is plainly ridiculous – Ruth is a grown woman with a child, and Michelle is her rival in love, but this reader knew exactly what she meant, it was one of those weird random thoughts that real people have, and the glamorous Michelle is a truly nice woman (and it must be great to be her daughter).

These books are flatout terrific novels, and I hope they go on forever – though am really wondering what comes next for the main characters after the dramatic ending to The Dark Angel…

The dark angel at the top is from the ever-excellent Perry Photography.

The  next picture shows Norwegian archeologist Anne Stine Moe Ingstad (1918-1997) who discovered the remains of a Norse settlement in Newfoundland: she is examining “a fire pit at the site of what is believed to be a Norse house dating from about A.D. 1000". This sounded so much like something Ruth might be doing that I used it for an early post on this series.

The young people digging are part of a WPA project in the USA in the 1930s.


  1. I'm glad you've included Ruth Galloway and Harry Nelson in 'The Great Detectives'. I read The Chalk Pit, and thought it was fabulous, not like a crime thriller at all (that may not sound it like it, but it's meant to be a compliment - I said the same about Christopher Fowler's The Water Room), because the characters and the various relationships between them are so well drawn and so credible. There are dead bodies, and crimes, but it's not gory, and it's very much about people, ordinary people, who are concerned about the everyday things in life.

    1. So glad you agree, that's how I feel about the books. And now I will have to try The Water Room.

  2. I was absolutely sure I had commented on this one, Moira! Apparently my comment disappeared. At any rate, I really love this series, too. What I like about both Ruth and Harry is that each of them is a well-developed and interesting character independent of the other. I think that's what makes their dynamic when they're investigating work so well. Sorry this didn't show up earlier...

    1. Blooming Blogger doing you down Margot! Thanks for coming back. And yes, that's exactly what's so great about this pair. I hope she keeps on writing books about them...

  3. I read The Crossing Places and enjoyed it, but then went over to the Stephens/Mephistopheles series. Now I'm back working my way through the Ruth Galloway books and really enjoying them. Particularly how funny they are - I was on a train and did some embarrassing snorting noises at the description of the terrible play in The Janus Stone.
    All her characters could so easily have been cliches, but they aren't, they're great, and definitely pass noel Streatfeild's "bus test". My only tiny quibble is the repeated references to WPCs - they haven't been called that officially for nearly 20 years!

  4. Aargh, Mephisto, not Mephistopheles (autocorrect's vocabulary often surprises me).

    1. Mephistopheles sounds perfectly feasible!
      Ruth just wins out for me, but I do enjoy the Brighton books. And now will have to go and reread the Janus Stone to remind myself of the bit you mention.
      And yes, very good description of why her characters are so good. I'd know Ruth anywhere...

  5. I have yet to get to book 3 in this series (but I do have it on the shelf). So will have to see how I feel about the series after that. They are definitely good reads and the characters are interesting.

    1. There are so many good series around, it can be hard to keep up! That's why I know Elly Griffiths is a favourite - because it is no effort to keep up with her.

  6. Good traveling Moira. Our cruise spends the day in New York tomorrow but no crime fiction involved.

    1. Hope you are having a good time! I had a fabulous trip.
      We were almost within waving distance of each other in Italy last year I believe - we obviously like the same places.

    2. Who knows? Maybe next year we will be in the same place at the same time and can have a chat about crime fiction.

  7. Oh YES!!! I love the Ruth Galloway books. The characters are absolutely marvellous - as are the settings. I am somehow convinced that I have actually been in Ruth's house, the feeling of the place is so tangible. And the creation of Cathbad is in itself enough for some kind of really prestigious literary prize, I think.

    1. Yes, yes and yes. And so funny: real, character-integrated humour.

  8. I'll read one of her books one day - I promise!

    1. you should - not quite gruesome enough for you, but I think you would enjoy...


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