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Review: The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths

The Outcast Dead
The Outcast Dead
The Outcast Dead


Highlights: Cathbad returns! In book five, Cathbad decided to stay away from his love interest Judy Johnson in order to give her a chance in her new marriage. Yet, when Judy and Cathbad's child is kidnapped, nothing will stop him from returning to Norfolk to lend a helping hand.
Synopsis: Ruth Galloway discovers the grave of the notorious Victorian-era child murderer, Mother Hook. Meanwhile, DCI Harry Nelson is on the trail of a modern-day kidnapper called "The Childminder."



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The Outcast Dead is the sixth installment of Griffiths's Ruth Galloway mystery series. All of the old favorites are back, with the introduction of some new characters who are sure to shake things up.


Americans may have some trouble with the British terminology and spelling, but these issues are few and do not disrupt the reading pleasure.

Posted May 26, 2014 by

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British author Elly Griffiths has found great success with her Ruth Galloway mystery books. Her sixth installment in the series, The Outcast Dead, was released earlier this year. While it may seem inconceivable that a forensic archaeologist would have enough to do to cover six works of fiction, the series’ heroine shows no signs of running out of mysteries to solve and trouble to get into.

Although it is not necessary to read the books in order to understand them, it is helpful to start with the first book to comprehend the complicated relationships between some of the characters. In order, the books are The Crossing Places, The Janus Stone, The House at Sea’s End, A Room Full of Bones, A Dying Fall, and The Outcast Dead. The author also released a short story in 2012 titled “Ruth’s First Christmas Tree,” which comes before A Dying Fall in the chronological order.

Most of the books follow a similar plot line. DCI Harry Nelson of the Norfolk police stumbles upon some questionable bones. He brings in forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway to inspect the bones and determine if they are from a modern period, and therefore point to a modern death that Nelson must now investigate, or if they are older and fall into Ruth’s realm of research. In the first book, Nelson and Ruth have an affair, and she later has their child, a daughter named Kate. Nelson is married to the beautiful Michelle, and though he has genuine affection for Ruth, he simply isn’t willing to walk away from his wife and their two daughters. Kate’s birth complicates Nelson and Ruth’s interactions, but by the sixth book, the two have settled into some semblance of normalcy again.

In addition to Ruth and Nelson, there are many other characters who appear in each book. Under Nelson’s supervision in the police force are DCI Judy Johnson and DS Dave Clough. From the college where Ruth teaches, her annoying department head Phil Trent and his wife, Shona, make regular appearances. Of all the secondary characters, though, the most important, and this reader’s favorite, is the druid Cathbad. Cathbad’s sixth sense and his uncanny ability to be exactly where he is needed results in his rescuing most of the other characters at some point during the different installments.

In The Outcast Dead, Ruth discovers the remains of the notorious child murderer Mother Hook, whose real name was Jemima Green. Ruth’s find draws the attention of television producers who film a show called Women Who Kill. Through Ruth’s involvement with the show, she meets handsome American Frank Barker, a historian, who believes that Jemima Green was actually innocent of the crimes for which she was hanged. Meanwhile, Nelson is busy with a case involving a woman who has now had three infant boys die mysteriously. In the middle of all of this, a person using the moniker “The Childminder” is stealing young children from their homes; one of the children who goes missing is DCI Judy Johnson’s infant son, Michael. All three cases will eventually intersect in what turns out to be a race against time to save Judy’s little boy.

Like all of Griffiths’s other Ruth Galloway books, the author employs a “slow boil” technique. The books start off with the situation of finding a body (or, in some cases, bodies), and then the plot simmers until a climactic ending. The Outcast Dead is no different in this regard. Thankfully, Griffiths’s approach does not feel slow, but rather as if it is constantly building in intensity and urgency.

Another great thing about Griffiths’s writing is her interjection of humor. Ruth weighs thirteen stone, about 182 pounds, and this detail nags at her. Like most women who watch their weight, Ruth also has feelings of guilt about her diet as well as her simple desires for food. For example, when channel surfing one night, she happens upon a cooking show. In the third person, Griffiths writes of Ruth’s dilemma, “Then she pushes a pile of books off the sofa and sits down to flick through the channels. Cookery? No thanks, she has enough problems with her weight without indulging in cupcake porn.”

Griffiths also provides a beautiful and apt description of what most working people feel about Sundays. “It’s more that the day has its own atmosphere—less exciting than Saturday, less depressing than Monday. Sunday mornings, in particular, have a mood of their own, easy as the song says. After lunch Ruth will still experience that old Sunday afternoon dread—a heady mix of undone homework and uniform drying by the fire, cosy and sad at the same time.” Truly, Griffiths’s writing is one of the reasons her works about an unlikely crime-solving archaeologist have remained so popular.

One small problem Americans might have with the series is the British terminology. Although we speak the same language, our spelling and word choices are often at odds. Americans may need to look up some terms, such as a “Wendy house”, which is a playhouse. Words like “cosy” and “pyjamas” may also cause a few readers to do a double-take. These differences are only minor inconveniences, though, and should not prove to be stumbling blocks or cause anyone to stop reading.

As with any series, there are times when ideas get repeated and the work seems stagnant; for me, that does happen with the Ruth Galloway mysteries. I could not put down the first book, The Crossing Places, but I was not as engaged with books two through four. Part of the reason was the introduction of Kate, Ruth and Nelson’s daughter, because her existence slowed Ruth down, and the constant guilt-ridden feelings Ruth had about having to do it all as a single mom seemed a little whiny. Luckily, book five and now six have the same feel as the first one, and I devoured them both within a few days’ time.

I have to admit that I am now a devoted fan of the Ruth Galloway mysteries. I read all six books in two months, and I am already looking forward to Griffiths’s next installment. Luckily, she writes about one book per year, so I won’t have too long to wait for my next fix of this great series.

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway uncovers the bones of a Victorian murderess while a baby snatcher threatens modern-day Norfolk in this exciting new entry in a beloved series.

Every year a ceremony is held at Norwich Castle for the bodies in the paupers’ graves: the Service for the Outcast Dead. Ruth has a particular interest in this year’s proceedings. Her recent dig at Norwich Castle turned up the body of the notorious Mother Hook, who was hanged in 1867 for the murder of five children. Now Ruth is the reluctant star of the TV series Women Who Kill, working alongside the program’s alluring history expert, Professor Frank Barker.

DCI Harry Nelson is immersed in the case of three children found dead in their home. He is sure that the mother is responsible. Then another child is abducted and a kidnapper dubbed the Childminder claims responsibility. Are there two murderers afoot, or is the Childminder behind all the deaths? The team must race to find out—and the stakes couldn’t be any higher when another child goes missing.
List Price: $27.00 USD
New From: $13.10 USD In Stock
Used from: $13.37 USD In Stock
Release date March 11, 2014.

Review: The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths 5.00/5 (100.00%) 1 vote

Mollie Smith Waters

Mollie Smith Waters teaches American literature, theater, and speech at a small community college in rural Alabama. Her hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, and walking.


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