The Woman in Blue
I’ve been a huge fan of the Ruth Galloway Mystery series since I read the first entry, The Crossing Places, featuring a slightly overweight, socially inept, English archaeologist. It’s a mark of how much I like this series that I put up with a number of features that normally bother me including the use of the present tense, numerous examples of adultery by key characters, and an incident in the first book that had one person – because of my recommendation – defriend me on Facebook. This eighth entry has a slightly different feel. Ruth seems to play a less prominent role while other characters – most notably DCI Harry Nelson – are given more emphasis. I found it less compelling than earlier entries.
It’s important to keep in mind this is a mystery series, not a romance. And it’s definitely not a mystery series in which the female lead becomes involved with one man in the first book, and eventually marries him or settles into a permanent relationship a few books later. Not so Ruth Galloway.
All of the characters in the series have an extensive, interwoven back history, and those interconnections are picked up here. DCI Harry Nelson, married and the father of two girls, is also the father of Ruth’s daughter through a one-night stand in the first book that happened when Ruth was called in to help examine bones found on a site. Since then, Ruth has become a regular consultant for the police. Everyone tries to be very civilized about DCI Nelson’s infidelity, but it permeates all of their interactions.
As the book opens, Cathbad – Ruth’s odd druid friend – is house sitting at an ancient pilgrimage site located next to a graveyard. He spots a woman wearing a blue cloak in the middle of the night in the graveyard, and the next morning, Nelson is called to the scene as a woman’s body has been found nearby. The murdered woman turns out to be a famous model who is being treated at a local drug/alcohol center. The model bears a striking resemblance to Nelson’s daughter and to his wife when she was younger.
The same morning, Ruth receives an email from a friend she hasn’t seen since graduate school, asking if they could meet up in Walsingham – close to where Cathbad is staying. It turns out the friend – who has since been ordained – has been receiving threats centered on the role of women in the clergy.
Ruth’s investigations into the threats on her former friend, and Nelson’s investigation of the murder bring them both to the Walsingham area on numerous occasions. I became intrigued by the descriptions of the area and learned there’s an actual shrine in Walsingham to the Virgin Mary, which is fitting for the story.
Religion and spirituality of various types play a strong role in the various threads in this book, both in the characters’ personal relationships and with regard to the mysteries themselves. It also highlights the role of religion in Nelson and Ruth’s lives. Nelson is a Catholic, while Ruth is a staunch atheist who is very much against allowing religion into her daughter’s life.
Ruth is an interesting character – she has no fashion sense, is rather clumsy socially, a bit overweight, and has a running battle with the chair of her department. But almost in spite of herself she’s become successful professionally, has now written one book, consults with the police on archaeological matters, and has been on a TV show. I read the series primarily for Ruth, and for the connections between archaeology and the mystery. For me The Woman in Blue had too little emphasis on Ruth and archaeology, and too much on Nelson. The ending has me rather intrigued, and I’ll definitely pick up the next in the series, in the hope I’ll see more of Ruth.