First Line: Cathbad and the cat look at each other.
Dr. Ruth Galloway's friend Cathbad is housesitting in Walsingham, a medieval town known as England's Nazareth and famous for religious apparitions. When Cathbad sees a woman in a white dress and blue cloak in the cemetery one night, he believes he's had a vision of the Virgin Mary. But the vision turns into a dead body lying beside the road the very next day.
Ruth's old friend Hillary is in town. Now an Anglican priest, Hillary has been receiving threatening letters, and knowing Ruth's association with the police, she asks for Ruth's advice but then is reluctant to follow it. When one of Hillary's fellow female priests is murdered before Walsingham's annual Good Friday Passion Play, Ruth, Cathbad and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson find themselves teaming up to catch a killer.
If you're new to this series and wondering if you should give it a try because you've heard people like me raving about it, let me give you one piece of advice: if you're a mystery reader who prefers the crime and its investigation over the characters, you might just want to give this series a miss. Now... it hurt me to say that because I'd love to have everyone read and love these books, but it's true. The characters in Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series have personal lives that are every bit as rich as the mysteries they solve-- sometimes more so-- and their personal lives can often impinge on the investigation.
In The Woman in Blue, we learn about another location in the county of Norfolk-- Walsingham-- and the place of women in the Church of England. It also gives us a chance to see Ruth side by side with a woman with whom she went to university. Ruth-- an archaeologist and single mother to five-year-old Kate, who is the result of one night of passion with the very married DCI Harry Nelson. What a contrast with Hillary, the Anglican priest!
One of the strengths of this series is the relationship between Ruth and Nelson. This is no simple case of infidelity. Griffiths does an excellent job of showing the characters' good and bad points. It isn't a matter of readers blythely choosing which character they believe is hardest done by and cheering him or her on. As time passes, Nelson's wife is becoming a more important character, and no one can tell what the future will bring for any of them. I think Griffiths is superb at showing life in all its complexity.
But how about the mystery, I hear you ask. It's a good one. There may not be much archaeology this time around, but there are several things going on, and one of the tasks readers have is to decide if everything connects to one source... or if there's more than one villain. It's certainly not an easy decision to make!
If you love mysteries with an excellent sense of place, complex and intriguing crimes to solve, and absolutely splendid characters, you'd be hard-pressed to find a series better than Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway.
The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths
Quercus Books © 2016 (UK edition)
Hardcover, 358 pages
Police Procedural, #8 Dr. Ruth Galloway mystery
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen.