Covid By The Sea
The two most interesting aspects of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths are the strange, unconditional relationship between Ruth and Harry Nelson, and of course, Cathbad.
For those who have not discovered this series yet, Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist and apart from supervising digs, she teaches at the University of North Norfolk; she has a daughter, Kate, by a cop, Harry Nelson, who remains married to Michelle, with whom he has three children. The two women’s paths do cross, but they remain civil to each other— in the last book, Night Hawks, they even faced danger together.
Cathbad is a delightful druid, who is the partner of Nelson’s teammate Judy—a New Age guy, whose mixed spiritual beliefs baffle everyone around him, but they love him all the same—particularly his kids and dog called Thing.
Griffiths always manages to make the fields of archaeology and crime intersect in the picturesque beach town, and in Book# 14, The Locked Room, Covid-19 makes an appearance too. (All writers will have a problem fitting the pandemic into their stories set during 2020-2022.)
So, while Ruth excavates old bones, by the town’s cathedral, in an ancient space called Tombland, where plague pits had been dug up to bury the unnamed dead, Nelson is confronted with three suicides of women, that look more like murder, but with no clues left behind. Meanwhile, there’s the virus, which means Michelle who is away with her small son, visiting her mother in another town is stuck there, giving Nelson some extra romantic time with Ruth.
Ruth has to find ways to keep her daughter, Kate, entertained after schools shut and conduct online classes for her own students, which she finds tiresome. Cathbad’s older daughter moves in, and the younger two are happy with their father’s yoga classes, and his home-cooking, while Judy works towards solving the crime. Everyone in the town comes out regularly to clap for the care workers, which annoys the chronically grumpy Nelson, who thinks he is just doing his job.
Ruth has a new neighbour, Zoe, who is a big help, keeping her company and babysitting Kate, but she turns out to have a past that leaves Nelson uncomfortable, until she disappears and adds to his woes—working with a skeletal staff, and his boss ‘Super’ Jo, turning up in full protective gear, if she appears at all. Everybody grapples with shortage of masks and test kits, and the hassles of working from home. Then Cathbad, the healthiest of them all, is felled by the virus, adding another layer of tension to the gripping novel.
The title refers to one of the women being found dead in a room mysteriously locked from the outside, but actually everyone has been shut in due to the virus, and that feeling of claustrophobia automatically suffuses the book. Elly Griffiths knits the multiple strands carefully, without dropping a stitch.
The Locked Room
By Elly Griffith