dr. ruth galloway, forensic archaeologist

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Ruth starts to paste a welcoming smile on her face but it is frozen by Phil’s next words.
‘This is Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. He wants to talk to you about a murder.’
‘Suspected murder,’ Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson says quickly. …
‘We’ve found some bones,’ he says. ‘They seem to be a child’s but they look old. I need to know how old.’
Ruth is silent but Phil chirps in eagerly.
‘Where did you find them, Inspector?’
‘Near the bird sanctuary. Saltmarsh.’
Phil looks at Ruth. ‘But that’s right where you …’
‘I know it,’ Ruth cuts in. ‘What makes you think the bones look old?’
‘They’re brown, discoloured, but they look in good condition. I thought that was your area,’ he says, suddenly aggressive. …
‘Will you come and look?’ Nelson interrupts.
Ruth pretends to consider but, of course, she is utterly fascinated. Bones! On the Saltmarsh! Where she did that first unforgettable dig with Eric. It could be anything. It could be a find. It could be …
‘You suspect it’s a murder?’ she asks.
Nelson looks uncomfortable for the first time. ‘I’d rather not say,’ he says heavily, ‘not at the present time.’ …
‘I’ll send a car for you at twelve,’ says Nelson.
Much to Ruth’s secret disappointment, Nelson does not send a police car complete with flashing blue light.

from: The Crossing Places

The Happy Archaeologist

Actually Dr. Ruth Galloway is a happy woman. She loves her job as a forensic archaeologist and her teaching at the university. She enjoys digging up any bones or other artefacts. Although only forty years old she’s got a good reputation in the scientific world and always works on new publications about archaeological findings.

At the same time she seems lonely. She found a small cottage not far from the coast amid the saltmarsh, a godforsaken place, where only her cats and some weekend/summer guests nearby keep her company. Her parents live in London as ever. The relationship isn’t so good because her parents are Born Again Christians and would like her to marry, abandon any career and concentrate on having babies. Bad luck.

Throughout the whole series spanning about more than ten years so far there are two plot lines: of course there is the crime case, a murder or whatever in each volume, and there is Ruth’s private life which is more interesting than you might think after the introduction at the beginning.

The private life …

Ruth lives together with her two cats in a cottage on the saltmarsh. (Later it’s only one cat left!) She’s the down-to-earth type with comfortable clothes because she’s … overweight. Having years of experience with trying to lose weight … she doesn’t care any longer. About a year later Kate is born, Ruth’s daughter, out of an one-night-stand, totally unplanned. Guess who the father might be. It’s DCI Harry Nelson.

Nelson is married with two children, two teenage girls – becoming grown-up girls resp. women during the series and flying the nest. His wife is gorgeous. Divorce? Nelson thinks it would be difficult … although he learns that his wife has an affair with a colleague of him, who unfortunately dies in the line of duty. Soon afterwards his wife gets pregnant and Harry becomes the father of a little son. From this point in time there is no more pondering about a divorce and living with Ruth. Nevertheless Nelson is keen on caring for Kate … and he is obsessed with ideas what might happen to his little Kate cause by any of the evils in the world.

Of course all is revealed somehow little by little and some sort of patchwork family life evolves. Be sure that always somebody isn’t fine with the whole situation, if Ruth, if Nelson, if Nelson’s daughters … Ruth for her part meets men which like fall in love with her and vice versa. As a whole it’s an interesting family mess which happens during the following years.

Ruth is lonely? Doesn’t seem so … especially when taking into account her private friends like Cathbad, the Druid, and his entourage, her colleagues at university and finally all the investigators of the police who definitely like her – whatever may have happened between her and their DCI boss. So after all these years Ruth seems happy and no longer lonely. (Be sure that the private story continues and always is good for a surprise.)

Does Ruth need Nelson?
It doesn’t seem so. Ruth manages her life and the life of her daughter smoothly and there seems no need for any Nelson around although Nelson treats the matter differently. Kate … is happy to have a father and grown-up halfsisters and a little halfbrother.

Nelson and Ruth meet at the beginning because of bones found in the saltmarsh. The story leads to unravelling the mystery of a lost child years ago and dealing with recent murders who shall cover the tracks. They form an effective team.

It happens during the following years that there are more bones to unearth, more murders to investigate, more foul play around Norfolk’s coast, small villages, old churches, digging sites … The cases always end up on Nelson’s desk. Nelson always relies on Ruth and her experience concerning forensic analysis – and Ruth enjoys it although she often risks a lot when intermingling into ongoing investigations.

The cases are no plushy, cosy investigations: the cases seem real and brutal. In short: in this series people don’t kill out of boredom, but out of very special objectives. (You may substitute killing for abduction, child molestation etc.) If you think that the main focus of the series is the evolution of the family mess – no: the main part is always the crime. However, the private lifes of all people around Ruth are involved and sometimes at risk. It’s like a blueprint for telling crime fiction imbedded in daily life and the private world of the investigating officers.

What else? The novels are suspense-packed: the best criteria for more to come. However, now the last novel is announced … It’s #15 in the series. (I haven’t read it so far – I just finished #14 …)

The patchwork family mess is already in #14 hit by Covid … and it gets messier. Ruth is now at the beginning of her fifties … Kate becomes a teenager … Nelson approaches retirement limit … The last novel therefore will not only present another exciting murder case, but also needs to untangle the private affairs. I’m looking forward to the next novel …

(I’m not sure if it is really the last of the series – my private thinking!)

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a faint cold fear thrills through my veins ... william shakespeare