RogerBW's Blog

A Dying Fall, Elly Griffiths 22 December 2023

2012 mystery short story, fifth in the series (police plus amateur detection). One of Ruth's old university friends has died in a house fire, but he'd already written to ask her to come and have a look at something he'd found in the post-Roman site at Ribchester…

As before, Griffiths is writing about one-third mystery story and two-thirds observation of people. Everyone seems to be running on autopilot: Ruth became pregnant by (married) DI Nelson, but neither of them can manage either to stay away from each other or to get together. (And it rather looks as though this situation will continue.) I can't claim it's implausible, but it's rather more soap-opera than I usually like in a mystery.

But while the leads can be frustrating, at least those around them can move and change (particularly Cathbad, the university lab tech turned freelance mystic). The action this time is in Blackpool, with a variety of ghastly people from "Pendle University" ("one of the new ones, on the outskirts of Preston"). Which has apparently been infested by white supremacists, which leads to this book's major research failure:

'But there are some druids, Neopagans they call themselves, who have these extremist views. They adore King Arthur. They worship the Norse Gods. But it's more than that. They believe that the Norse people, the white Aryan people, are superior.'

Um. Well. No. Neopagan is a label for the very broad group including everyone who's trying to do something like paganism in the modern day, and if you wanted to talk about the racist subgroups you might reasonably call them "völkisch", though most of that lot (while specifically focusing on Odin) wouldn't give a stuff about King Arthur. And self-declared druids are a tiny subset of neopaganism. I'm not saying you couldn't get a völkisch group that was into King Arthur and druidic practice as well, which is what Griffiths is trying to get at, but these are just the wrong words to describe them.

But in spite of that I had fun here. The puzzle is in seeing how various people's brokennesses have interacted to produce the situation into which Ruth is flung (while Nelson visits his, and his wife's, parents, when he isn't being called away by his old mate on the local force). Perhaps there are a few too many new characters with slightly too little personality each, but while I didn't love this book I did in the end enjoy it.

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