Solving mysteries during a pandemic

As The Locked Room (2022) opens, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is in London helping her father clear out her late mother’s things so his new wife can redecorate. The first chapter’s timestamp of February 2020 tells the reader what Ruth does not yet know — the COVID-19 pandemic is about to send all of them into lockdown. How on earth is there going to be a mystery, let along an investigation and a resolution, in the midst of such societal disruption?

Griffiths handles that conundrum with her usual skill, using the pandemic to explore the reactions of many of the familiar characters from past books to forced isolation. Of course the police, led by DCI Harry Nelson, are essential workers and not forced into lockdown, though they have to cope with social distancing and reduced opportunities for the whole team to gather. It’s unusual for the central mystery not to revolve in some way around one of Ruth’s excavations or examinations of discovered remains, but in this case Nelson and his team are faced with a series of apparent suicides whose details don’t quite add up.

Social distancing also doesn’t manage to prevent major developments in the relationship between Ruth and Harry, though once again we are left with a bit of a cliffhanger in this ongoing B-story even as the main case is tidily wrapped up. On the one hand, I kind of want this storyline to resolve sooner rather than later; on the other hand, Griffiths has so deftly invested all of the characters with nuance and complexity that I’m at a loss to know which resolution I would prefer.

This is one of my favorite series, and I’m happy that this entry lives up to expectations, even as some of the conventional methods of investigation are upended by the realities of the pandemic lockdown. Griffiths intends to wrap up Ruth’s story with The Last Remains, which will be published in the United States next April. I have full confidence that she will give Ruth, Harry, Cathbad and the rest of the crew the sendoff they deserve.

Published by Julia

I learned to read before I started kindergarten, and I haven't stopped yet.

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