THE HOUSE AT SEA'S END, by Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 978-0547506142, $25
Elly Griffiths' books get better and better. This is the third Ruth Galloway book to make it to the shores of the U.S.
Ruth is an archaeologist at a university in Norfolk, England. She's also a self-styled consultant to the police force. Although she prefers old bones, she also has to contend with freshly murdered corpses on occasion.
It's Ruth's continuing underlying story that makes the series so rich. In “Crossing Places,” the first book in the series, Ruth met DCI Harry Nelson and they began a strange and strangely romantic alliance, even though Harry is married and Ruth is not interested in changing her hard-won intellectual life for him. But, of course, things gang aft a-gley, or it wouldn't be an interesting story. By “The Janus Stone,” Ruth was pregnant and determined to go it alone. Now Ruth is the mother of a baby girl, whom she single-handedly is raising after steadfastly refusing to name the baby's father. Which brings us to “The House at Sea's End.”
Six skeletons are found in a seacliff crevice, the bones uncovered by erosion. Through modern forensic techniques and the coincidental appearance of a German researcher, the bones are determined to belong to World War II German soldiers. How did they die? Why were the bodies hidden? A couple of other recent deaths appear suspicious, but these deaths are of old English men. Are they related? Ruth is part of the archeological team investigating the soldiers' bones but soon finds herself embroiled in a village mystery. As erosion eats away at the small coastal town of Broughton Sea's End, so do Ruth and Harry chip away at the mysteries that seem to accumulate like falling dominoes.
The answers aren't neat and presentable in Griffiths' mysteries. Some of them produce more predicaments in the best cliff-hanging fashion. Moral ambiguity looms large and even the most outwardly heroic of souls can harbor a touch of the devil. It is that confusion of motivations and the occasional rising above that makes Griffiths' stories so very interesting and worthwhile.