At an archaeological dig at Norwich Castle, once used as a jail & site of executions, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway discovers a skeleton that she believes could belong to the notorious 19th century baby farmer, Jemima Green. Green was known as Mother Hook because she had lost a hand & wore a hook instead. The remains Ruth has found are in the right place & have a hook where a hand should be. Ruth’s boss, Phil, ever avid for publicity, is keen to participate in a TV program, Women Who Kill. Jemima, Mother Hook, hanged for the murder of five children in her care, is the perfect subject for the program. Ruth is uncomfortable with the sensationalist slant of the program (& with the thought of appearing on camera) but the new director, Dani White, seems to be trying to present a more nuanced view. She’s up against the relentlessly tabloid style of the show’s star, Corinna Lewis.
DCI Harry Nelson is investigating a case that brings back memories of some of his most disturbing cases. A baby, David Donaldson, has been found dead in his cot. His two older siblings, Samuel & Isaac, also died young & what looked like a tragic coincidence, may be more sinister. David’s mother, Liz, is now a suspect, & Nelson has to tread a fine line between investigating a possible murder & being seen as persecuting a grieving mother. Then, a child is abducted from her home & a note signed The Childminder, is found at the scene. The long ago case of Jemima Green seems to be reaching out to the present in some very disturbing ways.
I’m a fan of this series & The Outcast Dead is one of the most involving cases so far. Ruth Galloway is such a sympathetic character. She had a brief affair with Nelson, resulting in the birth of her daughter, Kate. Nelson stayed with his wife but finds himself drawn back to Ruth & wanting to be involved in Kate’s life. Ruth knows that Nelson will never leave his family but can’t help thinking about him. Other relationships don’t stand much of a chance. She meets American historian, Frank Barker, & although they have a lot in common, there’s no real spark there for Ruth.
Nelson’s team also plays an important part in the series. Judy Johnson had an affair with Ruth’s friend, Cathbad, & although she became pregnant, she went ahead with her wedding to Darren. Now she feels torn between her life with Darren & Michael & her love for Cathbad. Cathbad is one of my favourite characters. A Druid with a keen awareness of atmosphere & emotions that’s almost psychic at times, he moved away to give Judy a chance to sort herself out but he’s just as miserable as she is. Cathbad is convinced that Liz Donaldson is innocent & Ruth becomes involved in the present day case even as she learns more about Jemima Green & what really happened to the babies she cared for.
The Outcast Dead is a great example of an intelligent police procedural with the added interest of the historical & archaeological investigation. As the series progresses, the interwoven relationships of the main characters become more integral to the plots & never more so than in this story which has some moments of real anguish. I’m not very good at working out whodunit & I was misled by at least one of the red herrings but the clues are there & even the psychic consulted by the police at Cathbad’s insistence contributes to the very satisfying solution to the mystery.