Note: Spoilers for previous books in this series.
The sixth book in the Ruth Galloway Mystery Series begins a year after the previous book. In the first five books, we met Ruth Galloway, now turning 43, who is a self-described overweight forensic archeologist at the (fictional) University of North Norfolk, and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson of the Norfolk Police. The two teamed up to solve several crimes since Ruth is an expert on bones, and now Ruth is seconded to the Serious Crime Unit, which is headed by Nelson.
The Outcast Dead is about babysitters (throughout the ages) who are suspected of abducting and/or killing children. Nelson is involved in one such case in the present, and Ruth in a case from the mid-19th Century. The plots converge in a suspenseful dénouement.
Discussion: Most entertainingly, in every book, new characters are encountered who end up getting attached to the ensemble cast like barnacles on a whale. They become more enmeshed, and these new interrelationships become as much the focus of the plots as do the crimes.
Nelson’s team has become a family, and while Ruth feels like she can never really be a part of that family, in many ways she is. Although Nelson is married to Michelle, Ruth and Nelson have a child, Kate, who in this book is now almost three. One of Nelson’s detective sergeants, Judy, who is married to her childhood sweetheart Darren, had a child Michael, who just turned one, with Cathbad (Ruth’s good friend and Kate’s godfather). All of them continually interact as both colleagues, friends, and sometimes more than that.
Ruth continues to make fun of her own appearance. For example, when she meets a member of the television cast who is filming their discovery of some bones:
“She shakes hands with Mark Gates who looks at her appraisingly, as if considering how she’ll look on TV. Probably wondering where he can get a wide angle lens.”
Nevertheless, she is not only self-confident but continuously attracts suitors, much to Nelson’s chagrin. Nelson does not want to leave his wife, but it is also difficult for him to reconcile this with a life apart from Ruth and Kate. Optimally, he would have both women and all three children to himself.
Evaluation: This is a very appealing series, with well-drawn fascinating characters who seem very much like real people. Both Nelson and Ruth have wonderfully wry senses of humor. I also love that one comes away from these books learning a great deal more than how to commit a murder. In this story, we learn about topics as diverse as Munchausen’s Syndrome, to “the separate system” of imprisonment, to resurrection men, to the practice of memorializing the “outcast dead” (a ceremony held regularly in London that the author has transplanted to Norfolk for the story).
Published in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014