Fresh Meat: A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths

A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths
A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths
A Room Full of Bones, a mystery featuring a forensic anthropologist, is the fourth novel in the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths (available July 3, 2012).

When Ruth Galloway arrives to supervise the opening of a coffin containing the bones of a medieval bishop, she finds the museum’s curator lying dead on the floor. Soon the museum’s wealthy owner lies dead in his stables, too.

When DCI Harry Nelson is called in to investigate, he isn’t convinced these deaths were natural, and it is only a matter of time before he and Ruth cross paths once more. When threatening letters come to light, events take an even more sinister turn. As her convictions are tested, Ruth and Nelson must discover how Aboriginal skulls, drug smuggling, and the mystery of “The Dreaming” hold the answer to these deaths, as well as the keys to their own survival.

I’ve enjoyed the novels by Kathy Reichs that feature the fictional forensic archaeologist, Temperance Brennan, for many years. The study of bones is fascinating, and now I’ve found a new character to enjoy across the big pond, Dr. Ruth Galloway in Elly Griffiths’ s A Room Full of Bones.

Elly has written four novels that feature Dr. Galloway, a forensic archaeologist. Even though I haven’t read the first three, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a little hard at first to read in present tense. I know that seems a strange thing to slow you down, but it did for me. However, the story was so gripping that I soon forgot that and became eager to see what happened next.

At this point in her story, Ruth is a single mother struggling to adapt to a demanding child, keep up with her work, and be involved in the investigations that require her expertise. It’s also a novel of change for Ruth. She faces a variety of forks in her current path and, like all of us, struggles to choose the right way to go.

Though the story begins with the unexplained death of a local museum curator, the mystery surrounds the controversy over a local museum’s collection of Aboriginal bones from Australia. The Elginists are demanding that the bones be returned to Australia where they can go to the “Spirit Land so they can return to the Dreaming.”

Learning all this in the course of Elly’s story was an eye-opener for me. I vaguely remember hearing about it, but the information provided by the characters made me feel more strongly about what is happening.

Lord Danforth Smith is the owner of the local museum and it was his great-grandfather who proudly brought home the Aboriginal “relics,” which are, in fact, human bones. Ruth finds Lord Smith’s pride in what his ancestor did a bit disconcerting because she sees bones as people. Both Smith and his great-grandfather think of them as samples, little more than subjects to be studied.

While I know the study of bones and anatomy requires human bodies, I think it’s important to be respectful and circumspect in the study.

Elly did a wonderful job of presenting information about all of these things without it becoming a boring lecture-type presentation. We learn the details slowly, as Ruth does, from her beloved friend, Cathbad, and her new neighbor, Bob Woonunga. In trying to give an overview here, I’m astonished at how many characters were at the heart of the mysteries in this book, and I have to admire Elly’s skill at keeping all of them interesting.

The other key player in the Ruth Galloway novels is Detective Inspector Harry Nelson, who is the father of Ruth’s daughter. The two got caught up in the emotional turmoil of a case they were working on together in one of the earlier books and Katie came into the world as the result. While all of this is going on, an old love comes back into Ruth’s life and is welcomed by the overwhelmed single mother in need of adult company.

I love how fiction opens us up to history in other cultures and countries and we often learn more than we ever expected. In this scene, Ruth is attending an Elginists’ conference to learn more about the bones she has been examining.

But Bob’s greatest enthusiasm is reserved for the Rainbow Serpent, the great snake who, in the Dreaming, meandered over the land creating rivers and waterways. His body hollowed out the valleys; where he rested great lakes were formed; the stones are his droppings and his sloughed-off scales created the forests. The Snake, Bob tells them, is the totem of his tribe and he has written many poems about him. He reads some now meandering over the room like the snake itself, winding themselves around its dark corners, taking shape in the last rays of the afternoon sun.

Strange, thinks Ruth dreamily, that the snake should be the big baddie in the Christian creation story. Here he seems to be both hero and villain, at once creating and destroying. One of Bob’s poems describes how the snake eats a boy because he won’t stop crying, but then the boy and his crying are absorbed into the Dreaming. Bishop Augustine, too, seems to have had rather an obsession with snakes. On one hand the snake was the demon to be destroyed, on the other the agent of his vengeance. Of course, the snake has another, more Freudian connection too, especially if Augustine’s sexuality really is in doubt.

I’m stopping here because I don’t want to give away the secret hidden in the medieval coffin of Smith’s distant relative, Bishop Augustine, who apparently left a curse behind to keep the coffin from being opened.

Whew! That’s just an overview, but this is an interesting and entertaining read. As an added bonus, you’ll come away more educated!

Like what you see? Read the Fresh Meat post about Elly Griffiths’s  The House at Sea’s End on Criminal Element.

Leigh Neely is a former newspaper and magazine editor. She currently does freelance work, blogs at, and recently wrote the short story, “A Vampire in Brooklyn,” which is in the anthology,  Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. She is currently working on paranormal novels with a partner under the pseudonym of Neely Powell.

Read all Leigh Neely’s posts for Criminal Element.

Read more Fresh Meat posts on Criminal Element.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *