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The Janus Stone: A Ruth Galloway Mystery [Paperback]

Elly Griffiths
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 19 2011 Ruth Galloway Mysteries
The second novel in the highly praised new mystery series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, a woman who is very intimate with old bones and big trouble.

The Janus Stone
, the second Ruth Galloway mystery, sees Ruth literally up to her neck in trouble. She's standing in a trench cut into the ground floor of an old Victorian mansion in Norwich once run by the Catholic church as a home for children. Now it is being demolished to make way for a condo development, and because a medieval church was originally on the site, the town council has ordered an archaeological survey before the new buildings go up. And now they won't go up, not until Ruth has finished her investigation, because she's staring at the headless skeleton of a child buried under the imposing front door.


From the Hardcover edition.

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The Janus Stone: A Ruth Galloway Mystery + The Crossing Places: A Ruth Galloway Mystery + The House at Sea's End
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Review

Praise for The Crossing Places:
"Griffiths has wrought something of a miracle."
The Times (London)

"An effective and compelling archeological mystery in a unique setting, with engaging and unusual leads, and plenty of surprises"
— BookLoons

"I can't wait for the next in the Ruth Galloway series."
— Amy Myers, author of the Auguste Didier mystery series

"[Ruth Galloway] is solitary and plump and smart and self-assured, and very, very likeable."
— Margaret Cannon, Globe and Mail


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

ELLY GRIFFITHS's Ruth Galloway novels are inspired by the work of her husband, who gave up a job in finance to train as an archaeologist, and by her aunt, who lives on the Norfolk coast and who filled her niece's head with the myths and legends of that area. She and her husband have two children and live near Brighton.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
By Alison S. Coad TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
"The Janus Stone" is the second Ruth Galloway mystery by Elly Griffiths, set in atmospheric and history-rich Norfolk County in England. Ruth, a forensic archeologist, is called to a building site after the bones of a child are found during the demolition of an old building to make way for luxury condos. The site was once a medieval churchyard, possibly a Roman villa before that and in its most recent incarnation, a home for orphan children, which closed in the 1980s. When Ruth finds that the bones are relatively recent, from the 1970s, DCI Harry Nelson becomes involved in the case; they soon discover that the house had been owned by a prominent family, the current generation of which owns the construction company responsible for creating the condo project; which is to say, a family with secrets who have more reason than anyone to deter any investigation into the past. As Ruth learns more, she finds herself the target of bizarre pranks - pranks that might be designed to scare her, or perhaps to kill her.... This second novel in Griffiths' series confirms that it's a series worth reading. Aside from the relationship between Ruth and Nelson, we get a lot of history, a story about a Christian orphanage that does not include abuse (for a welcome change) and a smattering of information about Roman religious practices and mythology. All good fun for this reader; recommended!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many Layered Page-Turning Mystery March 5 2010
By Nicola Mansfield HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

Summary: A Victorian home is being pulled down to make way for a luxury apartment building but is stopped due to the finding of Roman remains. As archaeologists work they find a headless skeleton of a child under the doorstep of the home and forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is called in for her expertise by DCI Harry Nelson. The house was last used as a Catholic children's home and that sends the investigation in a direction that will not easily bring answers. At the same time someone is literally trying to scare Ruth to death and when that doesn't work perhaps they'll have to get up close and personal to finish off the job.

Comments: I love this series! This book is even better the first, The Crossing Places. This was a fast, page-turner that I read very quickly; I just couldn't put it down. Not only are there several possible suspects there are a few possible choices for the identity of the victim! I only just managed to stay a few pages ahead of each reveal but the final solution is one that you could not possibly see coming from the beginning.

Both Ruth and Harry are back the same as we remembered them from book one, only Ruth is less self-conscious but still her same outspoken, hard-headed, overweight, unfashionable self. For me personally, she is a character I could like ( I want to like) only I have great issues with her moral conduct and Harry's as well, though both of their personal lives take new directions and this is being addressed. I am eager to see where they are each headed personally in the next book. Since the personal life is integral in these books I do recommend reading them in order.

I also was quite taken with the Catholic part of the story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing! July 23 2010
Format:Hardcover
I was looking forward to this book as I enjoyed the first book in this series very much. I found this book did not flow from one scene to the next. It was very choppy as if in the editing a lot of the descriptive passages needed to fill out the story where cut out. For me this book was predictable. The tension I felt in the first book between the main character and the mystery was not here for me.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Love the protagonist Jan. 31 2011
By Luanne Ollivier #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Crossing Places was the first novel of Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series. I really enjoyed it and was happy to settle in with the second in the series - The Janus Stone.

This series takes place in the Norfolk region of England. Ruth has been called on to a construction site in her capacity as a forensic archaeologist. The skeleton of a child has been found underneath a doorway by the builders as they demolish the original building - a mansion that was also home to an orphanage.

Finding a child's skeleton impacts Ruth rather more personally than usual - she is four months pregnant. As she delves farther into identifying the remains, someone else is just as hard at work - making sure she doesn't succeed. They seem determined to go to any lengths to stop her.

Griffiths has created a great character in Ruth. She is highly intelligent, but insecure in social settings. She happily lives alone with her cat in a remote cottage. (I love the descriptions of the isolated salt marsh and it's beauty) She has come to terms with being pregnant for the first time at forty, but isn't concerned about being a single parent. Just about telling her quite religious parents. Not a cookie cutter protagonist at all.

The supporting characters are just as interesting. I am quite taken with her friend and colleague Cathbad - a self proclaimed Druid. Recurring character DCI Harry Nelson is a man of many facets - the relationship between him and Ruth is quite complicated.

I'm intrigued with how much historical detail is woven into Griffiths' mysteries. Janus is the god of beginning and endings, January is named after him and he is the god of doorways - transitions and change.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  140 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Griffiths' talent for suspense doesn't disappoint Nov. 4 2010
By Cynthia Jacox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Elly Griffiths has crafted an engaging mystery that keeps the reader in suspense to the very end. The tale begins when a child's headless skeleton is discovered by archaeologists, sparking a police investigation that attempts to identify the victim and murderer. The setting is the Norfolk coast of Great Britain, so the reader is treated to English geographical references and colloquialisms that add an element of charm to the story. The cast of characters is delightful: a spunky female forensic archaeologist who is dealing with the dilemma of an unwed pregnancy, the brusque Detective Chief Inspector on the case who just happens to be the father of her baby, members of a prominent, wealthy family as well as Catholic clergy that have ties to the site of the archaeological dig, and an array of quirky intellectuals fascinated by ancient mythology. This was my first exposure to Elly Griffiths' work, as I won this book from Goodreads.com, and I am definitely motivated to read her previous novel as well.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Two Genres Dec 26 2010
By Archie Mercer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The Janus Stone, Elly Griffiths' second Ruth Galloway mystery, is a great whodunit for the most part. This was my introduction to the series, having not read her first installment The Crossing Places (Ruth Galloway), and can say I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery part of the story. My only issue is the author in trying to develop the characters in to more complex people strayed into almost turning it into a soap opera. There were a few times in the story where that got a bit annoying.

Galloway is a forensic archaeologist whose expertise is called upon when bodies turn up on digs. At these times she teams up with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson to determine how old the bones are and who they belong to. For mystery fans there is a lot to like here. The author throws quite a few suspects out for our review without ever pointing the finger too strongly at one in particular. There are many twists and turns as someone tries to scare Galloway off the investigation. Finally when the culprit is revealed we are then treated to an exciting and somewhat satisfying ending. One thing I really like is the author does not just focus on Galloway and Nelson as the only two individuals smart enough to figure the mystery out. From the members of Nelson's team (Clough, July & Tanya), to Max Field (in charge of the dig), to a druid named Cathbad, all at times had revelations that led to solving the puzzle. It really makes it a fascinating and enjoyable read.

What is keeping me from rating this at five stars is, again, the soap opera feel that pops in too many times. Ruth Galloway is pregnant (revealed on page 18) and has not told the father who, of course, is married. Since she is single her parent's have all but disowned her. This theme runs in-and-out throughout the book with even the birth father's wife getting involved without realizing her husband is responsible. While this sub-plot is used as part of the exciting finale it still tends to push the story from mystery to romance at inopportune times. At times it takes away for the hard edge of the story, in my opinion.

Since I enjoyed the mystery immensely I plan to go back and read the first book and will at least look at her upcoming third installment, The House at Sea's End. Elly Griffiths. With a few minor reservation I would recommend this to those who love a good mystery.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Evil can't stay hidden forever." Nov. 6 2010
By E. Bukowsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist with a special interest in bones, teaches postgraduates at the University of North Norfolk and participates in the occasional dig. She lives with her cat in England's wild, desolate, and beautiful Saltmarsh, but will not be alone for long. She is three months pregnant and plans to keep the baby, even though it will mean raising her son or daughter as a single parent.

In "The Janus Stone," by Elly Griffiths, Ruth is preparing for the end of the school term and spending time with a fellow archaeologist, Dr. Max Grey, an expert on Roman Britain. As Grey informs Ruth and her friend, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, "the Celts and the Romans sometimes used to bury bodies under walls and doors as offerings to the Gods Janus and Terminus." Ruth is called in when the headless skeleton of child is discovered on the site of a luxury apartment complex that is under construction. The body was buried "right under the main doorway." Ruth carefully retrieves and examines the bones, and DCI Nelson of the Serious Crimes Unit takes charge of what will turn out to be a complex and troubling homicide investigation. One individual who may have important information to impart is Father Patrick Hennessey, a retired priest and ex-principal of the Sacred Heart Children's Home, which once stood on the grounds where the small skeleton was found. Once again, Nelson and Ruth will discover that "disturbing the dead [and] meddling with the past" can lead to unforeseen consequences.

Ruth is an immensely appealing protagonist who is unpretentious, resigned to being overweight ("she's never going to look good in a bikini"), highly intelligent, and extremely independent. She has offbeat friends, including a Druid, Cathbad, who sometimes wears a robe and flowing purple cloak, and a flaky university lecturer named Shona, a beautiful woman with a weakness for married men. Ruth is a bit of an amateur detective; she cannot resist the lure of an intriguing case. However, when an anonymous perpetrator threatens her repeatedly, Ruth must decide whether it is time to back off for her own safety.

As in "The Crossing Places," the author depicts her characters skillfully. The dialogue is sharp and witty and the narrative is fast-paced and involving. Griffiths creates evocative settings and provides enough red herrings to keep us guessing. The story's sole weakness is its melodramatic and far-fetched conclusion, during which the psychopath's identity is revealed and a terrified Ruth struggles to keep her wits about her. Aside from this quibble, "The Janus Stone" is an entertaining blend of romance, mythology, mystery, and psychological suspense. Fortunately for Ruth Galloway fans, Elly Griffiths is talented enough to keep her plucky heroine knee-deep in engrossing dilemmas for some time to come.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacks the vivid landscape of THE CROSSING PLACES Dec 6 2010
By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I was both charmed and haunted by the first Ruth Galloway mystery, The Crossing Places (Ruth Galloway). Griffith's sense of place--the salt marshes of Norwich, England--was stark and moodily disquieting. The land seemed almost anthropomorphic in its presence, and served to heighten the story and even strengthen the weak spots, including her strained and rushed denouement. Ruth, a Ph.D. anthropologist, is a flawed and frank woman of forty, an unapologetic atheist with a no-nonsense style. In this second installment, she remains steadfast. One of my favorite lines is:

"...God is a made-up fairy tale, like Snow White, only nastier."

And she is now three months pregnant. The father is Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, the taciturn and capable, and generally happily married father of two teenage daughters. In the first novel, Ruth and Harry were thrown together in a case. Bones buried beneath the marshes led to a twisted investigation and one intimate night together, a night where forces almost transcendent brought them together. They did not embark on a continuous affair, and their feelings for each other are blurry. Harry is still a bit of a cynical enigma, but a tender family man.

Now, in the heather and coarse grasses of Swaffham, a university-supported ancient Roman dig site is the primary location for the second team-up of Ruth and Nelson. Bones are again unearthed--this time the headless skeleton of a child of indeterminate age and time. Complicating matters is the necessary interruption of a development project of entrepreneur Edward Sens. He is building a seventy-four-unit luxury apartment complex on this site that was once a Catholic orphanage.

A cat-and-mouse crime thriller ensues, with a variety of new and old characters, including (but not limited to) an elderly Catholic priest, a sexy love interest for Ruth, (he is also an anthropologist), a dying nun, and Cathbad, the Druid, from the first novel. Griffiths balances Ruth's personal story and the criminal investigation with sufficient finesse and wry wit, and there is a tough tension whenever Ruth and Nelson are in the same room or space. However, despite all the back stories of peripheral characters, they don't organically come alive. Griffiths uses too much exposition to tell, more than show, her characters and story. Even Nelson remains archly narrow, but there's hope for his character to develop.

Moreover, the landscape and climate, which was so potent in the first novel, is given short shrift in this one. It is there, and lovely when it is, but more sparing, in small doses. How disappointing, because it was the most moving aspect of the author's talent. THE JANUS STONE is lightly competent, and she has learned to control the plot better this time around, but the pacing is just as rushed. The unfolding is a bit more manageable, less hysterical, but still melodramatic. Griffith's police procedural is just another stone in the river without her earthy, lucid, topographical and climactic inclusions. The archeological parts add color and weight, but sometimes they feel like artifacts to the story, and were more telegraphed than embedded, despite their impact.

I may go back for the third installment, THE HOUSE AT SEAS END. The prologue and first few chapters were included in this book, as a tease. Why am I going back? To see what happens to Ruth and Nelson, of course. And to hope for more vibrant terrain. If I don't see significant improvement and development of character and story, then it will be my last go-round for this series. And if the author kills off Nelson's wife in some tragic accident for convenience, I will put the book down even before I finish it.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A British Bones, after a fashion March 8 2011
By Dr Beverly R Vincent - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
One of the joys in reading a mystery novel is trying to figure out the identity of the killer. This is particularly difficult in The Janus Stone because the identity of the murder victim isn't revealed until well into the second half of the book. No one even knows whether the skeleton found under a portal at a demolition/construction site in Norfolk, England is from the modern era or dates back to the time of the Romans. The fact that it is headless tilts the balance in favor of something from antiquity, but it wouldn't be much of a murder mystery if the crime was committed 1500 years ago.

However, the historical connection does justify bringing forensic archeologist Ruth Galloway into the story. It is interesting that an expert of her caliber is unable to determine quickly whether the body is relatively new or ancient. When the police, led by Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, discover that a boy and a girl ran away nearly four decades ago from the orphanage that once occupied the site, the natural conclusion is that the skeleton belongs to the little girl. The priest who ran the orphanage is the inevitable suspect.

The mystery of the skeleton lumbers along, with its resolution motivated by the proddings of the wealthy Spens family, who are trying to build condominiums on the site. The occasional new clues muddy the waters more than they clarify them. For example, when the head is ultimately located, forensic dentistry shows that the type of fluoride in the teeth predates the missing children, so the investigators are back to square one. Another young girl died in the appropriate timeframe, but her body is accounted for. However, someone wants to scare Ruth off the case, so there's somebody living who still cares about keeping the body's identity a secret.

Ruth is a somewhat frumpy character. Moderately overweight, forty-something, lacking in style, intelligent and articulate but fundamentally insecure. The major subplot involves her pregnancy. The father is happily married, and Ruth's decision to keep the child estranges her from her religious parents. The plight of the little dead girl affects her particularly, because of her condition. She also finds herself attracted to another archeologist who is working at a nearby site.

Griffiths makes a number of references to incidents from The Crossing Places, sometimes without bothering to make sure readers unfamiliar with the first book in the series are properly oriented. The book is broken up by brief scenes that are presumably from the point of view of the killer, who is obsessed with Roman and other pagan mythologies. The date of these entries is limited to the month and not the year, as that might give away too much, and the gender of the focus of these vignettes is also masked. Ultimately these passages contribute little to the story and feel like they were added to pad out the novel to a more acceptable length.

There is a good hodge-podge of supporting characters, including a colorful Druid named Cathbad who pops in from time to time. The mist-cloaked salt marshes call to mind the muddy moors of Wuthering Heights. Griffiths brings in an unexpected coincidence near the end that may not sit well with all readers, but there is an atmospheric climax that makes full use of the setting's fogs. The author's decision to write the novel in the present tense can be disarming at times. Present tense seems to work better in short works.
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