The Janus Stone (2010) by Elly Griffiths

When a child’s bones – missing the head – are found as builders demolish an old children’s home, Dr Ruth Galloway is called in to help identify the victim. Was it an accident, a murder or worse – a sacrifice? When Ruth’s friend – and father of her unborn child – DI Harry Nelson traces the people who ran the home, he finds the story of a young boy and girl who vanished from the home, never to be seen again.

The case becomes more complicated when carbon dating shows that the bones predate the disappearance by more than ten years, before the building was a children’s home. But the investigations have clearly disturbed the past – and they seem determined to stop Ruth and Nelson’s investigation by any means necessary.

So, it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed Elly Griffiths’ work on the blog. I’ve reviewed a number of Stephens & Mephisto mysteries, and the first Ruth Galloway title, The Crossing Places, but have never come back since… [checks] … 2017. No reason I can put my finger on for not getting back to Elly’s books – she’s a phenomenally popular author – but our paths briefly intersected on Twitter a few weeks back so it prompted me to go back. And this was the cheapest title on Kindle, as a bundle of the first three titles.

This is the fifth review so far this month and for the fifth time, my opinions are divided. First of all, this is a very readable book. Despite the third person present tense narrative – it took a little while but eventually it stopped bothering me – this trundles along nicely. Ruth is a wonderfully drawn lead, not bogged down with baggage despite being pregnant from a one night stand with someone in a solid marriage, and that sort of positive lead character is the sort of character I want to read about. Nelson side-steps the “old grumpy cop” cliches pretty well, and his partnership of sorts with Cathbad, Ruth’s druidic friend is a highlight.

Similarly, the descriptions of Norfolk and the archaeological digs are beautifully done and it is a genuinely pleasurable read.

“But Puzzle Doctor, you said your opinions were divided…”

Yes I did, and it’s the murder plot that’s the problem. There just isn’t really that much of it. There are some classic (or should that be classical) clues, but despite those, the villain is really obvious although Ruth does need them to basically try and murder her before she really puts it together. To be honest, I always find cold case mysteries tricky – I’m sure writers do too – and with no current crimes relating to the case, bar the attempts on Ruth’s life and sanity, there just isn’t enough of a plot to really fill a novel with – thankfully the side-stories of Ruth and co are so enjoyable. And you do have to question the villain’s plan in the final third of the book – I know at this point we’ve established that they are, for want of a better phrase, nuttier than squirrel droppings, but it seemed to jar with the tone of the rest of the book.

But despite that, I’m going to echo what I said about E C R Lorac’s Fell Murder and say that I didn’t particularly mind too much. It was an enjoyable read and I’m curious to see where the characters go next. Having a nose at the blurbs, it does seem that there are more present-day murders in later books, which would probably help matters. But I’ll be back with book three at some point in the near future – or, fans of the series, should I jump to a particular title? Any suggestions welcome…

4 comments

  1. I suggest reading the books in order. This is one of those series that feels like you are catching up with people you know.

    The quality of the mystery element varies, but, for me, each book has been an enjoyable read.

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    • Ruth’s child grows from baby to pre-teen (or maybe teenager by now), so that’s another point in favor of reading the books in order. Also, most of the books have tantalizing allusions to earlier events. Personally, I’m not a fan of the situation between Ruth & Harry but I still like the characters themselves.

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  2. I’ve been thinking a bit about the appeal of series mysteries vs. one-offs, and how much I need character quality to make up for mystery “goodness”. A lot of my appetite for this depends on my mood – I’ll often binge a series and then never come back to it again.

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