The Outcast Dead is the sixth entry in Elly Griffiths' absolutely wonderful series featuring Forensic Archaeologist Ruth Galloway.
I stumbled across the first in this series (The Crossing Places) in 2009 and have eagerly awaited each new installment - I just know I'm before I even turn a page that I'm going to enjoy it.
The series is set in the Norfolk area of England - a setting rife with history and the perfect setting for these mysteries.
On her latest dig at Norwich Castle, Ruth turns up a female skeleton - one with a hook for a hand. Could she have uncovered the remains of the infamous 'Mother Hook', hanged for killing the children left in her care? The find stirs up interest outside archaeology circles as well. A television series, "Women Who Kill", wants to make the discovery the focus of their latest show. But the present is mirroring the past - a local mother is suspected of killing her own child....and then another young one goes missing. And DCI Harry Nelson is on the case.
Griffiths always weaves a fascinating tale, combining a well thought out mystery with fascinating bits of the past. (I often head to the Internet to follow up on the historical bits.) The theme of motherhood and mother love is also explored from many different viewpoints. But the draw for me is the characters.
I have so enjoyed the character of Ruth. I think it's because she isn't a 'cookie-cutter' protagonist. She's become a single mother later in life, she's hard on herself, generous with her friends, is highly intelligent, but shuns the spotlight. She's not beautiful in a conventional sense, but has that something that draws people to her. Griffiths has not endowed her with super sleuth abilities, rather she comes off as an actual person - one I would enjoy meeting.
The relationship between Ruth and Harry is a complicated one. And one small complication named Kate is now three years old. The supporting cast is wonderfully eclectic, and diverse. Cathbad, the self proclaimed Druid, is one of my favourites. He's quite enigmatic, showing up just when needed and he seems to see and recognize things that the others don't. A wonderful little sense of the mystical is woven throughout the series. Cathbad's storyline with another returning character has been building over the last few books and a resolution is reached in The Outcast Dead. I've become invested in these characters and feel like I'm settling in to catch up on the latest when I pick up the newest of Griffiths' books.
Setting plays a large part as well. The Norfolk area, while seemingly bleak, is beautiful in Ruth's eyes. I think I would enjoy living in her little cottage in the Saltmarsh, 'where the sea and the sky meet.'
And the title? "'And we ask your abundant blessing, Lord, on these, the outcast dead...' This brief ecumenical service is held every year for the unknown dead of Norwich: the bodies thrown into unmarked graves, the paupers, the plague victims, forgotten, unmourned, except by this motley collection of archaeologists, historians and sundry hangers-on."
I highly recommend this character driven mystery series. You could certainly read this book as a stand alone, but do yourself a favour and start with the first book.
Read an excerpt of The Outcast Dead. You can find Griffiths on Twitter and on Facebook.