Jim Kelly lives in Ely, Cambridgeshire, with his partner, the writer Midge Gillies, and their daughter. He is the author of the series starring journalist Philip Dryden. The Dryden series won the 2006 CWA Dagger in the Library award for a body of work giving ‘the greatest enjoyment to readers’
The biggest twist in Elly Griffith’s Dying Fall, the latest in her excellent Ruth Galloway series, is that most of the book is set on the Lancashire coast within sight of the Blackpool Tower, and not on the north Norfolk coast within sight of…….well, in sight of nothing really, which is the whole point of that wonderful stretch of sand dunes and vast seascapes.
Fans may react with horror to the change of location but their fears are groundless: Griffiths expertly weaves her story into the brooding landscape of the Pendle Forest – of Pendle-witches fame, and the windswept Fylde coast. And, after the suitably thrilling finale, Ruth sets off home to Norfolk again, in time for the next installment of the series.
In truth the north Norfolk landscape is never far from the surface anyway, because it makes up such a key element of Ruth’s Galloway’s character: a touchstone which she constantly has need to carry in her imagination. It stands as a symbol for her own strength in being alone. As a result Galloway, the gutsy forensic archaeologist, is a constantly diverting hero. Griffiths’ decision to make her less than glamorous – a kind of studious Ruth Jones – gives her an awkward strength, and lends plenty of real life frisson to her relationship with DCI Harry Nelson. (Here back on home turf in Lancashire). Add to them the wonderfully eccentric 21st century druid Cathbad (along for the ride to babysit Ruth’s daughter Kate) and you have an edgy, engaging, trio.
Griffiths plot has a lot of simple power. Galloway gets a letter from an old university friend (almost lover) asking for her help. He’s dug something incredible up and he is genuinely fearful of the consequences. Then Galloway gets news her old friend has been found dead in his home in Fleetwood. The house is burnt out, oily rags have been put through the letterbox and lit, and the front door locked. I won’t spoil the plot’s big secret but suffice to say a skeleton has been unearthed and its identity is set to cause an international sensation. But not everyone is delighted with the discovery. Pendle University, where the murdered archaeologist taught, turns out to be a can of academic worms. The plot gains some added depth thanks to the arrival of a bunch of unpleasant white supremacists. Galloway, with Nelson’s help, picks her way towards a neat solution. The finale on Blackpool’s Golden mile is a chip off a stick of Brighton Rock.
It’s not normal for Norfolk, but it’s a great read.