Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book Review: The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

Sometimes a book comes along where I feel strange about it. Not good, not bad, not even indifferent. Strange. And this book did that to me.

The Crossing Places is focused around two kidnappings, one older and one recent, both related to old Druidic practices. Our heroine is Ruth Galloway, a professor of archaeology. One day she is summoned by DCI Harry Nelson to the marshes near her home. They have found a child's bones and he believes they belong to a little girl named Lucy who disappeared ten years earlier. They don't, but that doesn't stop another girl from disappearing, and Ruth from deciphering the cryptic notes Harry has been receiving for the last ten years. Time is of the essence if they are to save the recently kidnapped girl-and possibly Lucy as well.

I was rather torn about this book. On the one hand, I liked both the setting and the basic storyline. We're in the foggy marshes of England, rather isolated from regular civilization. We find evidence of old human sacrifice, and possibly new sacrifice. We have cryptic letters filled with babble about religion and Druidism and magic. It sounds like a smashing good tale. But so much of it was taken up with Ruth's neuroses and grumblings about Christianity that the story fell somewhat flat.

First off, she wrote in the present tense. THE WHOLE TIME. While interesting, it wound up being distracting on the whole.

I really didn't like Galloway as a character. She was sort of bland, almost a stereotype mixture of "curious scholar" and "fat woman"-because we don't stop hearing her talk about her weight, trust me. We don't really get to know her, not as a person. We know her as a series of characteristics. She is divorced. She is annoyed by her Christian parents (oh, we don't stop hearing about that either). She likes her cats but IS NOT, I REPEAT IS NOT a crazy cat lady. She likes archaeology. She likes living vicariously through her friend who constantly complains about men using her, even as she tries desperately to attract their attention. The author tries to interject her with emotion, but I wasn't feeling it. We're supposed to believe she and Harry are attracted to one another, but I couldn't believe it from the first. Harry had a little more depth as a character, but not much. We know him mainly as "tough cop/adulterer-if-he-gets-the-opportunity", and "guy who apparently never paid attention to his own culture", as I knew more about what was going on than he did. And Ruth's mentor and the local Druid both scream "WE ARE HIPPIES".

It was an odd mixture of "let's try to write a scary mystery" and "woman wants to lose weight in the middle of solving mysteries" (no, seriously, there are books out there like that). It seemed like the author was trying to give Ruth some character development by the end (she understands her own hypocrisy, she comes to appreciate her parents while disagreeing with their religion) but it was rather forced. It feels like it could have been done so well, but it went so wrong.

Its redeeming factor, apart from the set-up, was the ending. I have to say, that ending was fantastic and heart-pounding.

If only the rest had been the same way.

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