The complete guide to the Ruth Galloway series

9 Mins read
Crime author Elly Griffiths

Forensic archeologist Dr Ruth Galloway and her onetime lover DCI Harry Nelson first appeared in print way back in 2009, and their on/off, will they/won’t they relationship has been tantalising readers ever since. However, alongside the domestic shenanigans are some mighty fine crime mysteries that entertain and confound in equal measure. Add into the mix a compelling cast of supporting characters and lovingly rendered settings and you’re all set for a riveting read.

For the majority of the series, Ruth lives in North Norfolk, in a tiny cottage at the edge of the salt marsh. It is an eerie, solitary place, with a flat horizon – if you can get above the marsh reeds to see it. The setting is really just a teeny dot on a map which Elly Griffiths crosses and recrosses with consummate skill. One of the many highlights of this series is its wonderful sense of location — from the desolate beaches to historic buildings and everything in between. There’s an atmosphere of mystery, coupled with something unexpected lurking in the shadows or submerged in the bogs, that keep the pages turning and turning again.

Characterisation also gains top marks here, with a full cast outlined at the back of each book, featuring the recurring characters’ likes and dislikes (Ruth loves Bruce Springsteen, dislikes shopping) and surprising facts (Cathbad can play the accordion!), among other things. That attention to detail helps to make each mystery feel like a visit with old friends, although this author is also adept as bringing in new blood too.

Now the series has come to a halt with the arrival of The Last Remains. But never say never… Elly Griffiths told the Eastern Daily Press: “I’m a little bit sad because it’s the end, but only the end for now,” adding, “I know some people are cross with me for having finished it, but I think they’d be even crosser if I dragged it out any longer. I feel really lucky to have been able to write 15 books – I think I only had a two-book deal at the beginning.” Sad news for Ruth and Nelson fans then, but in the meantime, let’s explore the work of the two-time winner in Crime Fiction Lover’s inaugural awards.

The Crossing Places (2009)

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths front cover

Book one in the series starts as it means to go on, with bones unearthed at the edge of a North Norfolk salt marsh. Are they recent or ancient? DCI Harry Nelson is desperate to know if they belong to a young girl who went missing 10 years ago, and he calls upon the expertise of Dr Ruth Galloway, an academic whose speciality is forensic archeology. Thus begins the relationship between the pair. It is a faltering start, with Ruth and Nelson coming at life from two very different angles – he a bluff northern family man, she a solitary and bookish type who lives in a tiny cottage out on the marshes. But their work is about to draw them inextricably closer.
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The Janus Stone (2010)

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths front cover

Builders knocking down an old property in Norwich uncover the skeleton of a child – minus the skull – beneath a doorway. Time for Nelson and a pregnant Ruth to unite again. The house was once a children’s home and Nelson tracks down the priest who used to run the place. He recalls two children going missing 40 years ago. Could the bones belong to one of them? When carbon dating disproves that theory, the spotlight turns to an earlier time when the building was privately owned. But as Ruth gets ever nearer to the truth, so does someone out to do her harm.
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The House at Sea’s End (2011)

The House at Sea's End by Elly Griffiths front cover

Research into coastal erosion in North Norfolk takes a macabre turn when six bodies are found buried at the foot of a cliff. They’re old skeletons, but just how old? Time to call in Ruth Galloway, who soon discovers links back to World War II. As she and Harry Nelson work in tandem to piece together secrets of wartime Norfolk, new mother Ruth begins to realise how little she knows of her home county’s more recent history. Meanwhile, a shadowy figure seems determined to keep the sins of the past permanently hidden away.
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A Room Full of Bones (2011)

A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths front cover

Halloween is perfect time to set a crime novel, and as A Room Full of Bones opens we find Ruth attending a rather offbeat event at a museum in Kings Lynn. She’s there to supervise the opening of a coffin containing the bones of a medieval bishop. However, things take a sinister turn with the discovery of the museum curator’s body beside the casket. A second death with connections to the museum has both Ruth and Nelson on high alert, and as the investigation progresses, Ruth is about to find herself severely tested, in more ways than one…
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Ruth’s First Christmas Tree (2012)

Ruth's First Christmas Tree by Elly Griffiths front cover

This is a short story, but well worth including (and you can check out the author reading it here). Ruth and her daughter Kate are getting ready for Christmas, well… sort of. Kate is just a year old, and while Ruth wants things to be special for her daughter, another part of her just wishes it was all over. She has so much to do and there are only three days left to get everything ticked off her list — including the purchase of the all-important tree. But things don’t always go to plan, do they?
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Dying Fall (2012)

Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths front cover

Juggling work and motherhood is proving a tricky balance for Ruth as A Dying Fall opens. And things are about to get even more complicated, with the news that her long-time friend and ex-colleague Dan Golding has been killed in a house fire. She is shocked and upset but a day later Ruth receives a desperate letter from Dan, posted the day before his death and containing revelations that prompt her to travel north to Lancashire to investigate further. Kate goes too, and so does her friend Cathbad, who could come in handy for babysitting duties. But it is Nelson whose detecting skills are about to be sorely needed. Read our review here.
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The Outcast Dead (2014)

The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths front cover

Crimes old and new come together in explosive fashion in The Outcast Dead (reviewed here) – named after an annual service held in Norwich to commemorate those laid to rest in paupers’ graves. Ruth uncovers bones believed to belong to a notorious Victorian child murderess known as Mother Hook, hanged in 1867 at Norwich Castle for killing multiple children. Meanwhile, in modern day Norfolk a baby snatcher known as The Childminder is abducting young victims – and and after a child close to everyone involved disappears, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
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The Ghost Fields (2015)

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths front cover

A bullet-riddled body is unearthed in the cockpit of a buried World War II fighter plane – but he isn’t the pilot and died much more recently. It’s another conundrum for Ruth and Nelson to get their teeth into, because the dead man is local aristocrat Fred Blackstock who had been reported lost at sea… curiouser and curiouser. The arrival of a TV company to make a documentary about the ‘ghost fields’, Norfolk’s deserted air force bases, muddies the waters further and in the worst storm to hit Norfolk for decades another Blackstock is attacked. Just what is going on?
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The Woman in Blue (2016)

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths front cover

While house sitting a cottage next to a graveyard, Ruth’s druid friend Cathbad sees a vision of the Virgin Mary, in a white gown and blue cloak. He’s unperturbed – after all, the county is home to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. But the next day a woman in a blue dressing gown is found dead in a nearby ditch, identified as a recovering addict being treated at a nearby private hospital. Then an old cleric friend contacts Ruth after receiving messages threatening women priests, a meeting shortly followed by another murder. As Walsingham prepares for its annual Easter re-enactment of the Crucifixion, the race is on to unmask the killer before they strike again… Here’s our review.
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The Chalk Pit (2017)

The Chalk Pit, Elly Griffiths

Norwich’s web of old chalk mining tunnels are the setting as human bones are discovered at the site of a proposed underground restaurant. Ruth soon categorises the find as a recent burial, setting Nelson off on a murder hunt. He already has a heavy workload, and with a new boss to impress the pressure is on. Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is checking out the disappearance of a local homeless person. Word is that Babs has ‘gone underground’ – but what does that mean, exactly? As the summer temperatures rise, the heat is on for Nelson and his team. You can read our review here.
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The Dark Angel (2018)

The combination of a free holiday and mysterious Roman remains are enough to tempt Ruth to leave Norfolk behind and head to Italy, with Kate in tow, at the invitation of former lover Dr Angelo Morelli. But dark undercurrents lurk in the picturesque hilltop town of Castello degli Angeli. Back at home, Nelson is disgruntled to learn Ruth has taken his daughter abroad without telling him, but he has other things on his mind, such as a pregnant wife… and a killer who has just left prison. Micky Webb once threatened Nelson. He says he is reformed and has found God – but is he to be believed? You’ll find our review here.
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The Stone Circle (2019)

We’re taken full circle in book 11 as Nelson starts receiving threatening letters that echo those he received right back at the start of this series, in The Crossing Places. The author of those original missives is dead, so who is writing them? Their contents draw him to an ancient henge being excavated by Ruth and her team. They’ve found a stone coffin which contains Bronze Age remains – but there are also remains that are much more recent. As past and present collide, secrets are destined to come out into the open and with Nelson’s wife Michelle due to give birth any day now, there is plenty to be revealed. Read our five star review here.
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The Lantern Men (2020)

Ruth has left North Norfolk. She has a great new job at Cambridge University and a new partner in the shape of Frank Barker, an American academic who is also a bit of a TV personality. In short, she has the perfect life – so why does she keep thinking about Nelson? The man in question is in a quandary. Convicted killer Ivor March is offering to reveal where more of his victims are buried but only if Ruth does the digging. Time for Nelson and Ruth to be thrown together once more. As excavations begin near a village supposedly haunted by shadowy figures holding lights that lure travellers to their deaths, Ruth begins to regret her decision. Click here to read our review.
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The Night Hawks (2021)

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths front cover

After her Cambridge sojourn, Ruth is back on home territory and called into action when a group of metal detectorists who call themselves The Night Hawks find more than they bargained for on a North Norfolk beach. Instead of an ancient hoard, they find a dead man who is something of a mystery and has a strange tattoo on his neck. Nearby, Ruth realises the Night Hawks were more successful than they realised – but the booty is all tangled up with some old bones, most likely Bronze Age. With a suspected murder suicide at a nearby farmhouse, there is plenty to keep the pair busy in this one – reviewed here.
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The Locked Room (2022)

The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths front cover

While we were all stuck indoors, Elly Griffiths spent the time coming up with her lockdown novel, and Coronavirus has a vital role to play in The Locked Room but is never allowed to dominate proceedings. Women are apparently committing suicide in rooms locked from the inside, however Nelson has a nagging suspicion that things are not as they seem. Meanwhile, Ruth has a mystery of her own to solve, after she makes a strange discovery amid the person effects of her late mother. It’s one she must set it aside when a skeleton is uncovered in the appropriately named Tombland district of Norwich. Read our review here.
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The Last Remains (2023)

The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths front cover

Out on 25 April in the USA, The Last Remains launched in the UK at the end of January – and had the series faithful laughing and crying in equal measure. If you’re new to the Ruth Galloway series, this is not the book for you, but if you’re a regular you’ll delight in the subtle little reminders of previous novels and the characters they contained. The discovery of a body hidden behind the wall of a Kings Lynn coffee shop is the starting point for a story that has repercussions for many of the regular characters, with Cathbad in particular acting even more oddly than usual. A book to relish and a fitting finale. Read our review here.
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Other Elly Griffiths books

The Brighton Mysteries

Set in the 1950 and 60s in (unsurprisingly) Brighton, this series begins with The Zig Zag Girl, published in 2014, with the most recent addition, The Midnight Hour, published in 2021. The books feature police officer Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto and are high on period detail and humour as well as containing some masterful plot work.

Griffiths has also tried her hand at standalone crime novels, with The Stranger Diaries and The Postscript Murders both set in Sussex and featuring DS Harbinder Kaur.


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