Wed | May 27, 2020

Book Review: Ruth Galloway returns in 'The Janus Stone'

Published:Wednesday | December 31, 1969 | 7:00 PM

Title: The Janus Stone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, US$26)

Author: Elly Griffiths

There's something satisfyingly Gothic about The Janus Stone, Elly Griffiths' second Ruth Galloway crime novel - funny, considering the novel's focus on ancient Roman rituals.

In this follow-up to Griffiths' debut, The Crossing Places, Dr Galloway, head of forensic archaeology at the University of North Norfolk, is called to consult when an archaeology team uncovers the bones of a small child, minus the skull, buried underneath the main doorway of a derelict Victorian mansion in Norwich.

At a concurrent dig of a Roman Britain site nearby, another skeleton is found underneath the wall of an ancient villa. The two bodies are unrelated, but the latter serves to provide a hint at the context for the former: It is possible the child was a "foundation sacrifice," buried as an offering to Janus, two-faced god of doorways, beginnings and endings.

But as Galloway begins to investigate, along with her police counterpart, detective Harry Nelson, she discovers the old estate had been an orphanage where two children had gone missing in the 1970s, so it's possible the skeleton belongs to one of them. And yet, before the orphanage, the estate belonged to a wealthy Norwich family, who as it happens, continue to run a real-estate development firm planning new luxury housing on the very premises.

Such a plot is bound to get a little tangled and confusing, but Griffiths keeps things under tight control, expertly dealing out clues, red herrings and more than a few surprises. The events from the previous novel are developed here - Galloway is now pregnant from her one night with the married Nelson and, as they work together on this case, they must sort out the consequences of their actions.

Ruth Galloway is a remarkable, delightful character - brilliant, wry, determined and independent, almost to a fault, yet also a little nervous and awkward. The Janus Stone is a must-read for fans of crime and mystery fiction, and readers are sure to clamour for the next book in the series.