The Janus stone – Elly Griffiths


The Janus stone is Elly Griffiths’s second mystery novel featuring Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist. This series is a lovely mix of history, archaeology & detection. The detective is DCI Harry Nelson. Harry & Ruth had a one night stand in the first book, Crossing Places, & now she’s pregnant, but hasn’t yet told Harry about the baby. I love their relationship. Ruth is spiky & independent (she lives on an isolated marshland in Norfolk, perfect for potential assassins to sneak up on her in the night). Harry is married & unsure what to do about his relationships with his wife & Ruth. They’re not in love but definitely attracted.

A child’s headless body is found during a dig on the site of a new apartment complex. The head of the child is found in a well. The site was once a children’s home but until the age of the remains is determined, they could be Roman or even older. There was a Roman tradition of burying human bodies under the doorways of houses as an offering to the gods of arrivals & departures, Janus & Terminus. Head cults were also known among the Celts, so was this an offering to the gods? Once the remains are confirmed as more recent, mid 20th century, attention turns to the children’s home run by Father Hennessey & a group of nuns & to the Spens family, who lived there before the home was established & who still own the site. Edward Spens is a wealthy man who doesn’t want his development delayed by archaeologists finding bodies in the foundations.

The Janus stone is a fast-moving, absorbing story. It’s unusual to find characters so well-defined & so interesting after only two books of a series. Harry’s police team are enthusiastic & ambitious & Harry may be technologically incompetent but he’s not too proud to ask for help. Ruth is a likeable character. For once the protagonist isn’t a stick thin, conventionally beautiful woman with her life all worked out. Ruth is overweight, unfashionable, a loner who prefers the company of her cat to living with other people. Her pregnancy is an unexpected joy to her but also a dilemma. How involved does she want Harry to be? At least it looks as though her strained relationship with her born-again Christian parents may improve after their initial shock & disapproval wears off. If you enjoy Kate Ellis’s Wesley Peterson series, I think you’ll enjoy Elly Griffiths. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

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