No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Saturday, February 12, 2011

2011/08: The Janus Stone -- Elly Griffiths

11 June: Day Sacred to Fortuna Virgo ... When I read Pliny or Catullus the gods are not just names to me, they are real. Their power and might overshadows all that comes after -- the puny love-feast of Christianity, the ridiculous modern gods of horoscopes and hypnotism and moving pictures. The Roman gods are logical and that is why I like them. If you kill, you must make amends in blood ... (p. 85)

The second novel featuring Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist. (The first is The Crossing Places.) Ruth spends rather less time in this novel worrying about her weight, but that's mostly because she's pregnant. This doesn't stop her becoming involved in what initially seems to be a routine case of Celtic or Roman child sacrifice.

Workmen in Norwich discover bones buried under the doorway of a former children's home that's being demolished and replaced by luxury flats. Turns out that the bones date back a mere fifty years or so: whatever the reason for their burial, it's not an authentic pagan sacrifice. DCI Harry Nelson is convinced that the bones are those of a child who disappeared, with her brother, in the early 1970s. He tracks down the priest and nun who used to run the children's home, but the answers they give don't fit the timeframe. Meanwhile Ruth is involved in another excavation down the road at Swaffham, where relics of Janus (god of doorways) and Hecate (goddess of the crossroads) are being unearthed. There are nastier discoveries too, and Ruth begins to suspect that someone -- someone familiar with the BBC production of I Claudius -- is trying to, literally, scare her to death.

As in the previous novel, Griffiths includes excerpts from the writings of the actual murderer, and the tone of these is quite chilling. The murderer's identity came as a surprise, though with hindsight there were enough clues to indicate the culprit -- as well as plenty of red herrings and obscure connections between characters.

Enjoyable, pacy crime novel with well-rounded characters (I'm increasingly fascinated by Cathbad, who's prone to Druidical pronouncements and the wearing of a purple cloak, but seems remarkably astute and pragmatic) and an excellent sense of location, from the marvellously bleak Norfolk coast to the streets of Norwich to the seafront at Southport. There's lots of fascinating detail (the age of one set of bones is determined by reference to a particular brand of toothpaste that was only sold between 1949 and 1955) and plenty of humour -- Harry Nelson's trip to the theatre stands out -- to balance the unsettling sense of ancient evil.

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