Sometimes a great first novel is no guarantee of a terrific second novel. I’m happy to report that Elly Griffith’s sophomore outing, The Janus Stone, is more than a match for her wonderful debut, The Crossing Places. Her central character, archeologist Ruth Galloway, is still living on the edge of a salt marsh in Norfolk, a setting rich in archeological history dating back to the Iron Age. In this novel, the remains are slightly more recent: they are Roman, and some of the uncovered bones are more recent still.
G.M. Malliet is obviously a devotee of the golden age of mystery – Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham – and she takes the old formula made dear to readers and applies it to the 21st century. This novel especially resembles Ngaio Marsh’s Overture to Death, where a particularly unpleasant village specimen is murdered at the piano warming up for an amateur theatrical. The vicar in Marsh’s novel is described as looking like a “Roman Coin,” while in Malliet’s, the vicar instead resembles the contemporary and dishy Hugh Grant.
Deborah Crombie’s skills as a sophisticated novelist have only increased over time. What began as a standard, though excellent, police series based in London, has evolved into a series that’s richly populated with detailed, complex characters, vivid settings, and themes. She’s neck and neck with authors like P.D. James and Elizabeth George, though she doesn’t share their sometimes completely bleak viewpoint.
Deborah Crombie also often highlights something interesting about England in each book – in this novel, she’s chosen sculling, and the Oxford University rowing culture. Her victim is a cop who had Olympic aspirations – Becca Meredith – and who has been contemplating a last shot at the Games. She’s last seen out with her boat, and her ex-husband gets worried about her.