Long-running crime series are like an addiction. Once you’ve started with book one, if the author is skilled enough to get you on the hook, it’s impossible to say no to books two, three, four and so on. Sadly, after a while some writers take the foot off the gas and start to cruise – a big mistake, because that’s a real turn-off and there are so many great books out there, all waiting for a willing reader.
Thankfully, other series go from strength to strength – Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Ian Rankin’s John Rebus are prime examples – and another platinum member of that happy band is CFL two-time award winner Elly Griffiths, whose Ruth Galloway novels never fail to engage and entertain. Which is why it came as a shock when Griffiths announced late last year that The Last Remains will be the final Ruth Galloway book for the foreseeable future.
No pressure, then, to come up with a fitting finale to a series that has been going strong since 2009, with 16 books in total – but never fear, Griffiths fans, because The Last Remains does not disappoint.
If you’re new to Ruth Galloway, please don’t start here, instead go back to The Crossing Places, the book that kicked it all off in the first place. If, however, you’ve been on the bus for a while, then The Last Remains will have you laughing, crying, gasping and staring wide eyed, because Griffiths delivers a thrilling roller-coaster ride worthy of DCI Harry Nelson’s beloved Blackpool pleasure beach.
It all begins in Kings Lynn, where alterations on an old building reveal a skeleton hidden behind a cellar wall. Soon Ruth is on the scene, and when she spots the surgical pin that proves the bones are not ancient, Nelson is immediately on the case. Who did this corpse belong to and how did she end up in her final resting place? It doesn’t take long to identify the victim – and uncover her past links to series regular and crime fiction’s favourite druid, Cathbad, who begins acting very strangely (even for him) and then disappears altogether.
Meanwhile, Ruth has bad news at work with the announcement via Twitter that the archaeology department she runs at the University of North Norfolk is under threat of closure. Just another complication to add to her already complicated life, and when Nelson begins to press Ruth for ‘the talk’ about their future together she puts him off. Which could be a mistake when an unexpected visitor arrives at Nelson’s place…
The Dr Ruth Galloway books are inevitably about the past – she is, after all, a forensic archeologist – but it is more recent history that keeps the pages turning here. Central to the narrative is the dead woman and the life she led and people she associated with before her death, but as the storytelling flows Griffiths cleverly inserts subtle little reminders of previous books and the characters they contained. Some are in plain sight, while others are not, so a read of our guide to the series may be timely to refresh the memory somewhat.
After reading the above, you’ll realise that there is plenty going on in The Last Remains, but it is to the author’s credit that the plotlines never become confused or confusing. Instead, Griffiths delivers a masterclass on how to sustain well-loved characters without making it feel samey, chucking in the odd curve ball to ensure that the reader never gets complacent. My heart sank as I got towards the end, but it was not through disappointment – it was the thought that I might never see Ruth and Nelson, Flint and Thing, Cathbad and Judy ever again. And as to the conclusion of the long-running will they-won’t they romance between Ruth and Nelson? Have the tissues handy – you may just need them.
Another well-loved series character said farewell in Wild Fire, the last book in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars